Finalized in January 1995, the Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) establishes minimum standards for protecting and enforcing all forms of intellectual property rights (IPR), including those for patents. In October 2020, the Indian and South African government proposed a temporary waiver of this agreement to simplify laws related to manufacturing of medical products needed to control the spread of COVID-19.
Till date, the proposal has been supported by over 100 governments including the US and New Zealand. However, the EU, UK, Canada and Japan governments are opposing this proposal, delaying manufacturing of COVID-19 PPE, testing, kits and vaccines required to protect workers in global garment supply chains. In COVID-19 era, business recovery of global brands mostly depends on their workers who continue to work in factories that offer no protection from the infection. If workers are not protected against the virus, they may be infected with emerging new variants resulting in repeated lockdowns and factory closures.
Blocking workers’ rights to health
Garment manufacturing countries are currently facing an acute shortage of COVAX-used to treat COVID-19. Though many of countries have made huge donations to increase vaccine manufacturing, these cannot substitute for the TRIPS waiver. The Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network of labor rights groups spanning across 44 countries, warns, by blocking TRIPS waiver proposal these governments are blocking their workers’ rights to health. Sharing technologies to expand vaccine manufacturing
The TRIPS waiver helps protect the health and safety of garment workers engaged in global supply chains of international brands and retailers, including those headquartered in the US, UK, Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia. Workers’ unions and labor and human rights group - People’s Vaccine Alliance has therefore urged governments to support the support the TRIPS waiver proposal.
The alliance has also urged governments to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, testing kits, and personal protective equipment by sharing technologies and participating in the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. It also urges global brands having a reliant business model to ensure that all their garment workers have an equal access to COVID-19 vaccines. According to the Alliance, brands need to publicly support the TRIPS waiver proposal to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing and treatment kits. The Alliance has collaborated with the Clean Clothes Campaign Network for this initiative.