Actions taken by fashion brands to protect their profits at the expense of worker rights have had profoundly negative impacts on vulnerable garment workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the onset of the pandemic, brands used their disproportionate power over factory suppliers to cancel agreed orders, pay suppliers substantially reduced prices for orders, or to grossly extend payment terms.
These decisions have had a devastating knock-on impact on the 60 million garment workers in fashion supply chains. Millions of workers have lost their jobs, have had months of unpaid wages, or have been forced to work for a fraction of their usual wage – an amount that has never been enough to cover a basic standard of living.
Despite these well documented impacts, two years into the pandemic, some brands continue to push suppliers to lower their prices and extend payment terms, increasing workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.
Labour rights advocates are calling on brands to contribute to wage funds to make up for the wages that have been lost - estimated as up to US$11.85 billion in unpaid wages and severance from March 2020 to March 2021 alone - and ensure workers receive the severance they are owed if they lose their jobs.
Since 2020, we have been tracking and publishing the commitments made by 51 global fashion brands, the impacts on garment workers, ongoing demands from the labour movement, and recommendations on how to build back better.
By The Numbers
Two years into the pandemic, trends of how garment workers are being impacted by brands’ actions during the pandemic continue to emerge – from discriminatory dismissals to huge wage loss. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is tracking brand actions and the ongoing impacts faced by garment workers. Our findings are encapsulated through this online tracker.
Unpaid wages and severance
Estimate for garment workers worldwide (from March 2020 - March 2021)
Worldwide by retailers
Of orders below cost
Which suppliers have been forced to accept
of workers not paid full severance
Among workers who lost their jobs
- Report: Unbearable harassment: The fashion industry & widespread abuse of female garment workers in Indian factories
Resources from the Labour Movement
International campaigns and demands
Campaigns and demands from civil society organisations and trade unions to protect garment workers’ rights during COVID-19 and beyond.
COVID-19 Coverage by Clean Clothes Campaign
Clean Clothes Campaign provides live coverage of news relating to how COVID-19 affects garment workers in supply chains.
How Much in Wages are Garment Workers Owed?
Clean Clothes Campaign estimated the total non-payment of wages to garment workers in during the months from March 2020 to March 2021, resulting from order cancellations by apparel brands, unpaid leave, and state-sanctioned wage cuts during the COVID-19 crisis.
Hunger in the supply chain
Worker Rights Consortium report found garment workers facing growing hunger and food insecurity, as a result of falling wages, job losses or suspension.
Wage theft in global garment supply chains
Asia Floor Wage report documents wage theft as the predominant consequence of the brand actions in the pandemic across the garment industry in Asia, and the impact this has had on workers’ livelihoods.
Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19
Report by Center for Global Workers' Rights and Worker Rights Consortium examines brands' purchasing practices as they place new orders with suppliers during the continued pandemic, based on supplier surveys.
Build Back Better
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and magnified the structural inequalities that face garment workers in global apparel supply chains. Trade unions, Civil Society Organisations and rights advocates are not calling for business as usual to resume, but instead for a new social contract to emerge with shared prosperity and a more equal distribution of wealth in supply chains at its core.
Business and Human Rights in a Just Recovery
Access to COVID-19 bailouts must be conditional on strong labour rights provisions & responsible business conduct. Part of Recovering Rights series by the Center for Economic and Social Rights.
Joint Letter: Recommendations for Protecting Workers in Response to COVID-19
More than 40 CSOs present steps the International Finance Corporation (IFC)'s clients should take to align with IFC Performance Standards and international labor and human rights standards.
Human Rights Due Diligence in Times of (Economic) Crises
This ECCHR policy paper explores how textile companies and retailers should have been practising proper human rights due diligence in the years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, and how companies should act now to protect workers.
A New Social Contract
Recovery for workers and their families can only be just and sustainable with a new social contract that invests in jobs, social protection, inclusion and just transitions for global shifts motivated by climate action, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of Just Recovery from COVID-19 blog series.
A just recovery for whom? And how to achieve it?
A just recovery post-pandemic requires the global community to work together and create a just world order that secures all human rights for everyone. Part of Just Recovery from COVID-19 blog series.
Closing the Gap
To eliminate forced labour in supply chains, exacerbated by the pandemic, voluntary policies by corporations must be strengthened with mandatory human rights due diligence.
Latest News on Supply Chain Workers during COVID-19
Visit our Big Issue area for the latest news on the impacts of COVID-19 on supply chain workers