Garment Workers: The most vulnerable amidst the impact of COVID-19
Throughout the years garment workers have faced many issues, among them are low wages, in most cases, zero benefits, poor working conditions, and the absence of contracts of any type. Contracts serve as a means of protecting employment, displaying hours/pay, and outlining benefits for these workers. However, more often than not, these jobs are only secured by spoken “contracts”. In some cases, being forced to work over 96 hours per week, garment workers only obtain a minimum legal salary, which is five times less than the living wage required to provide food, clothes, and a place to live for their families. Garment workers are often not allowed to form groups or unions of any sort to defend themselves and are forced to stand alone, as individuals, against managers and factories.
It could be argued that those who work from home suffer the most. These types of jobs are common in countries, where women struggle to get access to education or training that would allow them to perform in other work areas. Aside from the industry work they have to complete, they are also tasked with caring for their children and upkeep of the home simultaneously. Due to the nature of this work, these workers are constantly exposed to chemicals and zero-low safety measures are put in place which in turn puts their families at risk of injury inside their own homes.
While the first few paragraphs compile a list of standards that no now should have to deal with, this is an unfortunate reality for many. This type of work is sometimes the sole source of income for families which is why these work conditions are tolerated and sometimes even sought after because the power of poverty makes you feel like you should be grateful for the opportunity to even have a job, any job. A paycheck under the worst conditions to support a family is better than none at all. It should be noted that even children can be found working under these conditions in various countries. If you find these conditions atrocious and unacceptable for an adult, for a child it must be absolutely devastating. A friendly reminder, that in 2013 more than a thousand people lost their lives in Rana Plaza. Workers were forced to go back to the factory the day after the building suffered structural damage. The aftermath? 1,132 employees lost their lives and over 2.000 more were injured.
Is this really the fashion industry we know?
COVID-19 AND FASHION INDUSTRY
Due to the Coronavirus, many major brands from all over the world have been forced to short or cancel their production because of the low demand for their products. To them, It's just a moment that will soon pass, but for the men and women whose families rely on their salary to eat, this is crucial. And because their jobs are majorly secured by production, when there is no need for products, there is no need for employees.
And for those who do work, in most cases no safety measures have been taken, there are no policies that protect them from being fired and this is all while facing the possibility of contracting the virus every day.
Let's take Bangladesh as an example. In an article published by The Guardian, many Bangladeshi garment factories do not enforce proper health measures which are used to slow the spread of the virus such as keeping distance and the wearing of a mask.
In a report made by the BBC, almost 2 million people could lose their jobs in Bangladesh due to the Covid-19 crisis. The government has prepared a package to pay wages but it will only cover one month of wages for these workers. Marvelous.
But these types of situations can be key to transforming how garment workers are forced to do their jobs. There's a chance that long term plans could be implements in order to ensure higher standards for these workers.
Of course, there have been efforts in countries where garment factories have high production. Many brands and organizations from around the world have to come together to help those in danger. But this new order has to be sustained throughout the years and not simply as a response to a global crisis. Long term changes can be forced to grow out of this crisis.
Let's understand that the fashion industry collects over 2.5 trillion dollars in revenue per year, and an average salary for a garment worker is $100 per month. A low salary and an unstable, unsafe work environment is not needed to turn a profit, coming together to make sustainable change is always an option.
If we could have at least a hundred people like LeBron James, who is willing to go above and beyond with charitable donations and action to make a difference. Just one in every country. The world could be better for everybody.
---------------------- Author: Hernan Pacheco
Editor: Hailey Matarese