ILO says garment industry should do more to help workers

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FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing face mask and face shield to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus checks surgical gown at a packing session of a garment factory at Industrial Zone in Yangon, Myanmar. The coronavirus pandemic has slammed the apparel industry, leaving many of the 65 million Asian garment factory workers struggling as factories close or cut back on wages, and the International Labor Organization is urging the industry to do more to protect them. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw, File)

MITO – The coronavirus pandemic has slammed the apparel industry, leaving many of the 65 million Asian garment factory workers struggling as factories close or cut back on wages, and the International Labor Organization is urging the industry to do more to protect them.

The ILO issued a report Wednesday noting that imports from major garment-exporting countries in Asia plunged by up to 70% in the first half of 2020 and are still well below levels before the crisis hit, costing many workers their jobs as factories closed or cut back on production.

While that has had dire consequences for those working in the industry, most of them women, the pandemic is an opportunity for fashion brands to make their supply chains more resilient, sustainable and “human centered," said Christian Viegelahn, a senior economist at the ILO's regional office in Bangkok.

A full recovery for the industry will likely depend on overcoming the pandemic and may not come until 2022, he said.

Ensuring a better safety net for garment factory workers who have scant support to fall back on when they lose their jobs in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar is vital, the ILO researchers said.

But the industry needs to do more to improve basic things such as power supplies, logistics and communication and should also try to become more environmentally friendly.

“All these things are on the table and there are some discussions about this," Viegelahn said in an online briefing. “It is too early to say in which direction the industry will go."

The ILO report assessed conditions in 10 major garment exporting countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The region accounts for three-quarters of all garment factory jobs, it said.