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Roughly 60 million individuals are employed within the global garment industry, and approximately two-thirds of those workers are female. Women make up a disproportionate number of laborers in what is a low-paid, arduous occupation that often leaves them vulnerable to abuses of all sorts.
There can be no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a massive toll on the worldwide supply chains that affect the garment trade. Retailers everywhere are backing out of orders from factories, and government-imposed travel restrictions are hindering business in a number of ways. The end result is that far too many garment producers are halting production lines and putting countless workers out of a job, either temporarily or for good. Recent statistics suggest that more than one million garment workers have lost their jobs so far, with more likely to follow, garments such as scarves, leather gloves and the likes seem to be effected also.
The results for garment workers have been truly catastrophic. Individuals who remain employed in factories are facing substantial health risks because of the virtual impossibility of social distancing inside factory settings. Countless employers fail to put protective measures in place for their workers, most of whom do not enjoy health insurance or sick leave. The public health infrastructure in many of these areas is already weak and has been brought to the point of crumbling by COVID-19. When garment factory jobs are lost, entire families face uncertain futures without the resources necessary to provide for their basic needs Though certain governments have attempted to help provide assistance during this unprecedented time, there is often no consistency to the programs they have launched.
How Have Garment Supply Chains Been Impacted?
When global economic downturns occur, women and girls tend to suffer the most, with their food security, educational opportunities, healthcare, and livelihoods heavily impacted. During times like these, millions of females employed in the garment trade must contend with unpaid labour and increased difficulties with access to reproductive healthcare and greater risk of domestic violence.
CARE is putting out a call-to-action targeting leaders in the garment industry, asking that they take concrete steps to safeguard the rights of women laborers who are suffering the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stakeholders industry wide must make it plain that they understand the fact that women comprise the largest portion of their workforce and will thus suffer the most during this crisis. The demands they face at home combined with the increased financial pressure stemming from the manufacturing downturn require deliberate actions and assistance that these industry leaders are uniquely able to provide.
Stakeholders are urged to uphold longstanding and existing orders with supplier factories. Brands must accept delivery and remit payment for goods already produced and in production presently.
They must also state their commitment to supporting women working in the industry who are under a tremendous added burden due to the pandemic. Domestic violence protection measures, assistance with reproductive healthcare access, and other support services should be prioritised immediately.
By stepping up and acknowledging the critical role women play within the garment industry worldwide, manufacturers and brand leaders can contribute greatly to helping these workers navigate the difficult times brought about by COVID-19. This will, in turn, help the industry not just survive, but also thrive once the world comes out on the other side of this crisis. Greater awareness of the contributions of women garment industry workers on an international scale will pay dividends well into the future.