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Global apparel industries ground to halt, The ILO is committed to support it

The garment sector provides employment opportunities to some 60 million workers worldwide. around 80 percent of them women—and can be a critical driver for social and economic development.

 Today, the world of work is facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 100-year history of the International Labor Organization (ILO) – one that is spreading human suffering, damaging the global economy, and disrupting people’s lives. 

As efforts to mitigate the public health emergency intensify, the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID19) has had an immense impact on all social and economic sectors, including textiles, clothing, leather, and footwear (TCLF) industries. Quarantine measures, closure of retail stores, illness, and salary reductions have suppressed consumer demand. At the same time, this highly globalized sector is also struggling with severe supply-side disruption; as workers are told to stay at home, supply chains grind to a halt and factories close.

In addition to the health risks posed by the virus, the economic impact on the industries has affected the business and livelihoods of employers and workers alike. Factory and retail closures around the world have threatened the viability of enterprises and led to workers being suspended or losing their jobs altogether. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), a vital source of employment and growth in the industry, are likely to suffer the greatest impact of this global crisis.

Considering the situation, The ILO has proposed a four-pronged approach to addressing the impact of the pandemic: protecting workers in the workplace; supporting business, jobs, and incomes; and stimulating the economy and labor demand. This is underpinned by social dialogue to build trust between governments, businesses, and workers, to ensure their continued commitment to the necessary policy responses and workplace measures.

International labor standards are especially crucial in times of crisis. They contain specific guidance for governments, businesses and trade unions on policy measures to adopt on matters such as occupational safety and health, combating stigmatization and discrimination, hours of work, wage protection for workers in factories facing production suspensions, termination of employment, unemployment benefits, and responsible business practices for buyers and manufacturers.

The Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205) emphasizes the importance of social dialogue in responding to crisis situations and the vital role of employers’ and workers’ organizations in crisis response. Indeed, a climate of trust built through social dialogue and tripartism will be essential for the effective implementation of measures to address the pandemic and its impacts.

The ILO has developed a number of tools and responses. These include- Occupational Safety and Health Tips for Workplaces, Social Protection Responses to the COVID-19 crisis around the world, COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations, COVID-19 Employers and business membership organizations, The six-step COVID-19 business continuity plan, Enterprise survey tool: Assessing the needs of enterprises resulting from COVID-19, An employer’s guide on managing the workplace during COVID-19.

The ILO–International Finance Corporation Better Work program is monitoring the situation closely in its nine participating countries. It has shifted its operations quickly to provide workers, factories and brands support in addressing the emergency and protecting workers as the following outline.

 

A crisis team has been established to assist in adapting factory-level operations on crucial health and safety issues, coordinating information campaigns and training for national partners, providing policy advice for factories and brands, and working with governments and international buyers to identify opportunities to protect suppliers and their workers.

In partnership with the World Health Organization, information sessions have been organized for the Cambodian Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health and its inspectors, and for the Provincial Department of Labor in Cambodia.

A task force was created in Bangladesh with the BGMEA, interested buyers, and United Nations entities to support the production of level 1 PPE to address the urgent needs and build capacity for future investments in higher-level PPE production.

Surveys are being carried out in all factories in Ethiopia to understand the impact of Covid-19 on workers and businesses.

In Indonesia, Better Work is working with the Government on an unemployment insurance scheme, and on further guidance on wage payments for sick or infected workers or in case of government closures.

Finally, the ILO is identifying ways for apparel industries to recover in ways that will bring about a more resilient and sustainable industry. This includes an analysis of the investments and sustainable industrial strategies that are needed to advance cleaner production, environmental sustainability, and decent work.

By: Sanjida Xannat

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