The COVID-19 crisis has hit the garment sector in the Asia-Pacific region hard, with plummeting retail sales in key export markets affecting workers and enterprises throughout supply chains, according to new research from the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The research highlights that major buying countries’ imports from garment-exporting countries in Asia dropped by up to 70 per cent in the first half of 2020, due to collapsing consumer demand, government lockdown measures, and disruptions to raw material imports necessary for garment production.
As of September 2020, almost half of all jobs in garment supply chains were dependent on demand for garments from consumers living in countries with the most stringent lockdown measures in place, where retail sales have plummeted. The Asia-Pacific region employed an estimated 65 million garment sector workers in 2019, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide.
Although governments in the region have responded proactively to the crisis, the research reveals the closure of thousands of factories across the region, either temporarily or indefinitely. Worker layoffs and dismissals have increased sharply, while factories that have reopened are often operating at reduced workforce capacity.
In addition, the research identifies how women, who make up the majority of the workers, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, exacerbating existing inequalities in earnings, workload, occupational segregation, and distribution of unpaid care work.
Although the garment sector in Asia is generally marked by low levels of collective bargaining at both sector and factory level, the research notes that social dialogue appears to have helped strengthen crisis responses in countries where dialogue mechanisms are in place. The brief calls for more inclusive and meaningful social dialogue at national and sectoral levels in countries across the region.
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