Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Oct 21 (efe-epa).- The International Labour Organization warned on Wednesday that falling global consumption of clothing and measures to check the spread of the new coronavirus have resulted in a major crisis in the textile sector, with thousands of factories being shut down in Asia and millions of workers being affected.
“The global garment trade has literally collapsed in the first half of 2020. In some cases imports from major buying countries dropped (…) as much as 70 percent,” Christian Vieghelahn, senior ILO economist for the Asia-Pacific region, said in a virtual press briefing.
“The typical garment worker in the region lost out on at least two to four weeks of work and saw only three in five of her co-workers called back to the factory when it reopened,” he added.
The United Nations agency released a report on Wednesday saying the sharp fall in production and employment in the textile sector amounts to a bigger crisis than the 2008-09 slowdown in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for 60 percent of global textile exports.
“The depth of these declines and the speed and shape of the eventual recovery in the sector will likely not be (fully) visible until 2021 or 2022,” said the report, highlighting that the textile industry provided employment to 65 million people in the region, around 75 percent of the sector’s worldwide workforce.
Vieghelahn explained that the temporary or permanent closure of thousands of factories through the year was a result of falling global demand of clothes, forced closures to check the spread of Covid-19 and disruption of supply chains due to inactive raw material suppliers.
Closures due to health guidelines peaked in March and April, affecting 56 million workers, although five of the region’s 33 countries continued to be affected in September.
During the first few months of the crisis, the industry came to a complete standstill in production hubs like China, which supplies raw material to factories across the continent — especially in South and Southeast Asia — including major producers such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Asia serves as the manufacturing hub for major international groups such as Swedish company H&M and Spain’s Inditex, which sources clothes and footwear from 2,795 factories in China, 508 in Bangladesh, 151 from Vietnam and 156 from Cambodia, according to company data.
Although some of these countries have left the worst of the pandemic behind, they continue to suffer economic consequences of the demand slump in importing countries, as nearly half of the jobs in the textile supply chain depend on orders from countries where lockdown measures are the strictest.
Although the ILO did not release an estimate of jobs lost due to the pandemic across the region, it said that at least 812,000 workers of the sector had been laid off in Indonesia by July, accounting for 30 percent of the total workforce in the country’s textile industry.
The report warned that women, who form a majority of textile workers, have been hit the hardest by the crisis and there is a risk that progress towards gender equality in the sector could be reversed.
The UN body stressed the need of improving social security of the workers and highlighted the importance of collective bargaining, which is rare in the region. It urged the major brands to take responsibility for protecting the workers. EFE-EPA