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Post Pandemic, Fashion Continues to Backslide on Labour Rights

A Bangladeshi garment worker wearing an all red outfit with a black face mask. They sit at a sewing machine using blue materials.
A Bangladeshi garment worker. (Shutterstock)

A crackdown on trade unions and increase in labour abuses is becoming a worrying new norm in fashion’s supply chain, according to a report published Tuesday by The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

The findings, based on a survey of more than 100 union activists operating in the major manufacturing hubs of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, point to a troubling legacy from the supply chain crisis precipitated by the pandemic.

Nearly two thirds of respondents said the environment for collective bargaining and freedom of association has worsened, while almost half said they’d seen an increase in discrimination, intimidation, harassment and threats against trade union members since the pandemic.

Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent reported an increase in incidents of wage theft and almost a third said gender-based violence and harassment has increased as a result of the restrictions on union activity. And while incidents have increased, brands have become less responsive to violations, the report found.

“The increased suppression of trade union rights that spiked in the early days of the pandemic is today becoming the norm, with devastating impacts for garment workers,” the report said. “The pandemic has helped create a new and dangerously low floor for supplier and brand action towards workers’ rights which requires urgent remedy.”

Learn more:

With Inflation Painfully High, Fashion’s Garment Workers Pay the Price

Labour groups are warning of a new crisis on the horizon, as brands cancel orders ahead of the holiday season and living costs rise.

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