Its glamorous side cannot hide the fact that much of fashion industries shine comes from the hard work and toil of 65 million workers employed in thousands of garment factories across South Asia. As a 2019 ILO report highlights, garment factories in South Asia employ around 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide. However, most of them face ethical, environmental and sustainability issues, said Designer Derek Lam to the Women’s Wear Daily.
Introspecting supplier treatment
The WWD report says, there has also been a upsurge in violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in some of these factories. To change this balance of power between brands and suppliers, brands need to introspect on their behavior with suppliers, observes Joni Simpson, Senior Gender Specialist, ILO-Asia and Pacific. They need to create sustainable conditions for workers, she adds.
Consumers too have been urging brands to be more transparent in their operations. Johnson Yeung, Regional Urgent Appeal Coordinator, Clean Clothes Campaign East Asia Coalition says, the industry employs some of the most vulnerable, marginalized, poor neighborhoods and communities in South Asia and they need to be made accountable for workers well-being. Pandemic fuels labor abuses in Asian factories
Most countries in the Asia Pacific region are politically unstable and lack proper infrastructure. This makes them more vulnerable to labor abuses by Western companies. When the pandemic hit some of these countries, brands cancelled orders and deferred payments for orders already delivered. This made it difficult for factory owners to pay workers. As per Clean Clothes Campaign research, workers are currently being paid only 2 to 5 per cent of the clothing made by them.
The fashion industry mainly employs low-cost, low-skilled laborers. Roughly 80 per cent of them are women, reports ILO. The Asian and the Pacific countries employ 35 million women workers in the garment, textiles and footwear sector, notes Simpson. Some of these workers are underage making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation by supervisors and other male counterparts, he adds.
Need for organized change
Addressing some of these atrocities, a report by global risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft says, the pandemic has worsened the risk of modern slavery in some of Asia’s manufacturing hubs. COVID-19 led disruptions are fuelling labor and human rights abuses in Asian garment factories leading to a drop in their rankings, adds Sofia Nazalya, Human Rights Analyst, Verisk.
The industry really needs to make an organized change in its method of functioning says, Yeung. It needs to stop being profit-oriented and focus on improving supply chain transparency. It can improve their workers’ conditions by ensuring fair wages, giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions and implementing a code of conduct in factories. This will enable the industry to lift e workers out of poverty and provide them with a real life.