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The Financial Express

Clothing brands abandon BD workers in pandemic: HRW

Published: April 01, 2020 15:59:19 | Updated: April 01, 2020 18:45:46


FE file photo FE file photo

More than 95 per cent of brands and retailers refused to contribute to the cost of partial wages for garment factory workers who were temporarily suspended in Bangladesh.

A study was conducted by the Centre for Global Workers’ Rights and Worker Rights Consortium on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Bangladesh on March 27, with 316 Bangladeshi suppliers participating in it.

Apparel brands’ business practices in response to COVID-19 are exacerbating the economic plight of millions of garment workers in Asia, the Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday, reports bdnews24.

Scores of clothing brands and retailers have cancelled orders without assuming financial responsibility even when workers had finished making their products, said the international human rights advocacy and research organisation.

In Bangladesh, the value of suspended or cancelled garment orders swelled to $3 billion, according to data released by the association of garment makers and exporters.

These brand actions that increase worker job losses through dismissals and temporary layoffs are contrary to brands’ human rights responsibilities outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector.

Many supplier factories in Asia are strapped for cash and unable to pay workers’ wages and other compensation because of the brands’ actions.

“These are extraordinarily challenging times, yet clothing brands facing tough business decisions to ride out the COVID-19 crisis should not forsake the factory workers who make their branded products,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.

“Brands should take steps to minimise the devastating economic consequences for garment workers in their global supply chains and for their families who depend on this income to survive.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 manufacturers and industry experts, including brand representatives, about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on factories in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, and other Asian countries

It also interviewed worker rights groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused clothing brands’ and retailers’ sales to plummet, the rights group wrote in its report on Wednesday. Many have closed their retail stores to check the spread of the virus.

During the COVID-19 crisis, many global brands and retailers have made the following demands, asking suppliers to be “flexible” and “understanding”:

>>Cancelling orders for goods that workers had already made.

>>Cancelling orders for goods that workers were in the process of making.

>>Demanding discounts on products already shipped, dating back to January.

Not assuming any financial responsibility or specifying when payments would occur, even in cases where orders were already made or were in process.

According to the UN Guiding Principles, along with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance on Garments, brands should undertake human rights due diligence to identify and mitigate risks that may cause or contribute to human rights problems in their supply chains.

This includes “assessing” actual and potential human rights impacts, “integrating and acting upon the findings,” “tracking responses,” “communicating how impacts are addressed,” and engaging externally to “know and show” that they are taking effective measures.

 

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