The effects of COVID-19 on countries of the global south have been disproportionately higher. According to the estimates of the World Bank, it has been predicted that nearly 100 million people will fall below the threshold of the poverty line thereby leaving them in conditions that will be worse than they are already facing.
One of the worst-hit is the garment workers in the global supply chain. With the commencement of the pandemic induced lockdown in March 2020, the majority of the apparel and fashion brands from the Global North have shut down their stores and canceled orders with their suppliers who are mostly from the developing countries without any payments even though the orders were completed or were near completion. In a country like Bangladesh where the majority of the daily wage workers especially women workers are from the garment industry, an estimated 3.1 billion dollars worth orders were canceled without any prior payments. The crisis further aggravated with the lack of new orders thus leaving almost 50 million workers unemployed globally.
The globalization that was a boon for many and had provided work to millions in the developing countries of the global south has now become a bane leaving these countries crippled with the loss of income, livelihoods, and hunger. The pandemic has exposed the deep-seated inequalities in the society by making the glaringly uneven power concentration in favor of the retailers and companies of the Global North more apparent. More often than not, these companies have ensured that they adhere to the ILO standards of no discrimination on any basis, fair wages, etc. but with the pandemic outbreak, all these commitments have vanished into thin air owing to the nonbinding status of the workers.
Policy suggestions for decent work in Global Garment Supply Chains
It is the collective responsibility of the governments and the civil society organizations to advocate for decent work with fair wages for workers involved in the supply chains. The right to safe and healthy working conditions is a basic human right that should not be exploited to extract maximum benefits from workers by subjecting them to inhuman working conditions and taking away their right to the humane pace of production to recover the losses incurred due to the lockdown. Owing to the nonbinding status of these workers, it will be easier on part of the retailers and companies to escape responsibilities until and unless legally binding mechanisms are put in place by the government through the involvement of workers and labor union organizations in the process.
A complete restructuring of the global supply chain is required globally to ensure sustainable economic development for the developing countries that have been constantly exploited by the countries of the Global North through the creation of export dependency on them over the years. A minimum amount of advance payments to suppliers while placing orders can be set to ensure that workers do not go without any wages in times of crisis. Most importantly, the developing countries like Bangladesh, India, etc need to engage more in production of indigenous products for self-consumption through the promotion of small scale businesses and import substitution to counter the adverse effects of globalization that has been one of the leading causes of the economic crisis faced by a section of the workers of these countries.