Asian garment workers owed nearly $ 12 billion in wages amid pandemic

As fashion brands and retailers around the world return to profitability after an extremely difficult period of prices in international stores and falling fashion demand, for those who make clothes around the world the story is. far from over.

Asian garment workers owe nearly $ 12 billion in unpaid income and severance pay in the pandemic’s first year, according to a new report from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

The “Still Unpaid” report estimates workers owe $ 11.85 billion for the period from March 2020 to March 2021 as employers withheld or cut wages and international fashion brands and retailers canceled orders, refused to pay for goods or asked for the price. reductions.

The Clean Clothes Campaign said it estimated its pay gap figures based on “all available information” such as statements from employers, industry and worker surveys and media reports.

Khalid Mahmood, of the Labor Education Foundation in Pakistan, said the figure represented “unimaginable and often irreparable human pain”. He said this was not happening “in this one factory in Bangladesh or Pakistan”, but “in the entire garment industry”.

The report states that around 1.6 million textile workers have been made redundant in seven countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.

The Clean Clothes Campaign said many laid-off workers did not receive their full legal rights to severance pay, and others who were put on leave received only a small percentage of their usual salary.

Workers in all of the countries surveyed except Indonesia lost wages equivalent to at least double the average monthly wage.

“We cannot count on the brands’ own initiatives”

The Clean Clothes Campaign calls on clothing brands to negotiate a binding agreement to guarantee wages, establish a severance guarantee fund and ensure respect for fundamental labor rights.

The organization said: “Such a binding agreement, which must be negotiated and signed by unions with brands, individual employers or employers’ associations, will require signatory brands to ensure that workers in their chains work. supply receive their regular salary during the Covid-period. 19 pandemic, in addition to ensuring the payment of severance pay for workers in factories that close or carry out mass layoffs, and respect fundamental labor rights.

The report builds on the August 2020 report “Un (sous) paid in the Pandemic” by the Clean Clothes Campaign, which estimated that the loss of income and severance pay for the first three months of the pandemic were in the range of $ 3.2 billion to $ 5.8 billion.

According to Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign, not enough has been done to help workers despite the fact that more than 100 fashion brands have come together in a “call to action” for the garment industry since start of the pandemic.

“We can’t rely on brands’ own initiatives or the voluntary programs they hide behind to deliver to workers,” she said. “There is an urgent need for companies to negotiate and sign a binding and binding agreement with unions to prevent millions of garment workers and their families from falling deeper into destitution. “

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