The challenge for workers

Garment workers often have very limited power to raise issues with their employers. This is because there are massive financial and power imbalances in global fashion supply chains and there aren’t a whole lot of other employment options in garment producing nations. 

Workers need to have a way to anonymously speak out without fear of losing their job. Creating a channel for this is crucial for each and every company in the fashion industry today. These channels make sure that workers rights are respected, their health and safety is protected, and that they are treated with dignity. Covid-19 has made these systems more important than ever before.

It’s also important that workers have things like independent unions, and democratically elected worker representation groups. These are critical in giving workers a chance to engage with their employers on a more equal footing. Covid-19 has meant that workers can’t meet together to talk about the issues they’re facing in the way that they used to. Social distancing rules and bans on gatherings are global, and that means that unions and other groups can’t meet in person. 

Another thing that workers urgently need are effective grievance mechanisms. These should be operated by the companies themselves, and are so important for the wellbeing of workers. Through grievance mechanisms, workers can report both small issues and large systemic abuses. We know that the risks to workers are higher because of Covid-19, and that’s why workers desperately need ways for their voice to be heard.  In places where grievance mechanisms have been working, such as in Bangladesh where the Amader Kotha Worker Helpline offers garments workers a platform to report and resolve their workplace concerns, there has been a steep rise in workers speaking up about grievances. By April, almost half (47%) of all calls from workers were Covid-19 related. 

The increased need is clear, but Covid-19 restrictions have created bigger barriers, making access to help really hard. One of the challenges has been that workers simply haven’t been able to even go to the factories that they work in, because of things like mandatory lockdowns or redundancy. This presents a pretty tough obstacle for workers to overcome, because many companies only display information about their grievance mechanisms in the factories themselves. 

Industry response

In relation to the Third Commitment area, we looked at which companies could show that they had actively supported mechanisms for workers to express their concerns. Here’s what we found

  • 54% of companies had no evidence; only 15% had evidence of a Covid-appropriate worker voice mechanism
  • 26 companies showed support for unions or worker groups but 68 companies couldn’t show any active support

 

 

 

 


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