Garment, footwear sectors among most affected by COVID-19

The garment, footwear and construction sectors are the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey by ethical trade membership organisation Sedex that covered 3,346 businesses in 118 nations. Forty three per cent of businesses report their biggest challenge is supply chain disruption and the inability to secure raw materials and transport.

The garment and footwear sector is in significant trouble, with workers likely to face extreme poverty and health impacts due to the systemic issues within the sector and reliance on low wages, leaving workers without an economic safety net when faced with reduced work or unemployment, the survey report by the UK-based organisation said.

From the garment and footwear sectors, 469 respondents completed the survey, across 51 countries with most sites in China (107), India (77), Bangladesh (46) and Turkey (30). Sixty eight per cent of such respondents report their revenue has reduced significantly or critically. Only 38 per cent report customers are being supportive during the pandemic.

Countries such as India (88 per cent) and Bangladesh (77 per cent) have been particularly affected. Only 10 per cent of respondents from these two sectors have seen an increase in or steady revenue.
With many factories struggling to stay afloat, closures and reduced work has a devastating impact on jobs and income for the majority of workers in these sectors, the survey found.

A quarter of such businesses will temporarily close and 21 per cent will stop workers coming in to work during this period. This makes for particularly grim reading in an industry where workers earn extremely low incomes. With little to no margin for savings, many garment and footwear workers look set to face extreme poverty, it said.

Of those experiencing labour shortage in these sectors (30 per cent), companies are taking proactive steps to try and resolve the situation, with the recruitment of more workers (42 per cent) and use of contract labour (27 per cent) popular options.

With almost 70 per cent of those experiencing labour shortage looking for new workers, the likelihood of poor recruitment practices is exacerbated in times of crisis and hiring child or forced labour may increase.

A quarter in these two sectors plan to increase overtime, which may pose significant health problems for workers in an industry already characterised by extremely long working hours.

Negotiation with buyers on extending timelines so that orders can be met with existing workers was a key option for 40 per cent of respondents.

The statistics provide a stark picture of incredibly challenging conditions for suppliers and a much lower level of support from their customers than in any other industry, the survey report added.

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