COVID-19 exacerbated the issue of forced labor afflicting the garment industry for ages. The pandemic deteriorated living and working conditions of garment workers, putting them at higher risk of forced labor, says a new report by University of Sheffield. The report 'The Unequal Impacts of COVID-19 on Global Garment Supply Chains' states, garment workers in Ethiopia, Honduras, India, and Myanmar were the most affected as they either lost their jobs or were forced to work at reduced pay.
Most garment companies did not to live up to their commitments of good practice during the pandemic, the report states. They also did not source sustainable goods from manufacturers with fair working conditions, pay and no use of exploitation. Their actions highlight not just their faulty business models but also inefficient government regulations to protect workers.
Though some companies honored their commitments during the pandemic, these mostly included responsibilities towards factory owners or business partners. Most brands failed to recognize their social responsibilities towards workers, says Professor Genevieve LeBaron, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield. They cancelled millions of pounds of orders at the beginning of the pandemic, forcing manufacturers in Ethiopia to lay off staff, adds LeBaron. Workers who retained their jobs experienced worsening working conditions and pay, he adds further.
Regulate supply chains and retailers
To protest against this unethical conduct by brands, manufacturers plan to initiate legal action against companies that cancelled orders worth millions of pounds during the pandemic. The Sheffield report urges governments to step their regulation of these supply chains and retailers. It also requests governments to address the social challenges created by the pandemic.
The report further says, governments should ban the sale of below-cost price and forced labor made goods. This will prevent companies from forcing suppliers to use unfair labor practices, and compel retailers to be transparent about their operations. It will also help consumers make more sustainable and ethical shopping choices. Jakub Sobik, Communications Director, Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC), affirms, the industry and the government need to protect garment workers by ensuring fair treatment. They also need to applaud companies that confirm to fair business practices, the report sums up.