The COVID-19 pandemic disruption has had a significant impact on the textile and apparel value chain, particularly on garment workers in the Global South. The disruption caused by the pandemic has raised questions about global justice and responsibility for these workers. This briefing paper investigates how the Australian cotton industry can influence working conditions along the textile and apparel value chain, and provides a detailed summary of the context surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on the textile and apparel value chain.
The pandemic had a calamitous effect on the lives of garment workers in the Global South. Women make up 80% of the labor force in the textile and apparel value chain, meaning that they have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the sector. Migrant workers are important to the global textile labor force, and the exploitation of migrant workers has been an ongoing concern. The effects of COVID-19 are ongoing, and many countries are experiencing surges, different variants, and returns to lockdown, putting garment workers economically, socially, and medically at risk.
Global activism campaigns have sought to mobilise support and ignite corporate accountability. The #PayUp campaign, for example, urged consumers to hold brands accountable for paying their workers despite canceling orders. Large corporations canceling their orders had a dramatic effect on household income, leading to an increase in malnutrition and homelessness. The loss of jobs in apparel manufacturing was caused by several factors and continues to have a ripple effect on the longer-term economic security of workers.
As well as responding to the events of the pandemic, many actors are ‘future proofing’ their supply chains. The disrupted access to materials and political tensions will give some countries a notable advantage for export competitiveness. The global push for some textile industries in the Global North to ‘re-shore’ production has become a topical issue in recent policy debates. Responses to the problems faced by garment workers have focused on potential points of leverage at the endpoint of the value chain. Overall, the supply chain disruptions of the pandemic spotlight the need for stakeholders to work collaboratively to protect worker well-being.