Millions of vulnerable workers in the garment industry have been laid off or have lost wages as a result of order cancellations and non-payment by apparel brands in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent reports from worker groups and media show that in many of these cases, layoffs disproportionately target unionised workers and labour activists, suggesting that apparel factories are using the pandemic as a cover to attack workers’ freedom of association.
This report analyses the response by nine global apparel brands – H&M, Primark, Inditex (Zara), Levi Strauss & Co., MANGO, BESTSELLER, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade (Tapestry) – to allegations that garment factories in their supply chain are using COVID-19 as a cover to target and dismiss unionised workers in Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. Key findings include:
Garment factories supplying major fashion brands are using COVID-19 as a cover to crackdown on trade unions
More than 4,870 unionised garment workers have been targeted for dismissal by nine factories supplying for major fashion brands. Suppliers cited reduced orders and economic impacts of COVID-19 as the reason for dismissals while workers say they have been disproportionately targeted due to union membership and organising.
Analysis of brand responses reveals a stark gap between human rights policy and practice
Six brands responded to cases of union busting in their supply chain by citing policy commitments to respect freedom of association and trade union rights. All six also said they are investigating or in dialogue with suppliers yet months later, most cases remain unresolved. Three brands did not respond to a case that remains unresolved.
Brands have a duty to actively respect the rights of the workers that produce their clothes
When threats to freedom of association arise in their supply chains, brands must ensure workers and unions are directly and meaningfully engaged as part of their human rights due diligence and work quickly to ensure just resolutions.