Recent Reports by Center members:
The global Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on global garment supply chains, and the situation will get far worse before it gets better. As clothing outlets have been shut by lockdowns in developed market economies, sinking demand for apparel, brands and retailers have moved quickly to cancel or postpone production orders – refusing, in many cases, to pay for clothing their supplier factories have already produced. The result has been the partial or complete shutdown of thousands of factories in producing countries. As a result, millions of factory workers have been sent home, often without legally-mandated pay or severance.
Despite more than two decades of private voluntary approaches to address workers’ rights abuses in apparel supply chains, workers in the lower production tiers continue to face poor working conditions and chronic violations of their rights. Bangladesh has been emblematic of low wages and poor working conditions, culminating in the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013. With the five-year anniversary of the catastrophe approaching, the question arises as to whether the intervening years have seen meaningful gains for workers. This report finds that gains have been severely limited in regard to wages, overtime hours, and work intensity in part due to the sourcing practices of the brands and retailers that sit at the top of global supply chains. A partial exception is in the area of associational rights, where, in the aftermath of Rana Plaza, pressure resulted in minor pro-union labor reforms. This report finds one area where gains for workers have been dramatic: building safety. This is largely the result of an unprecedented binding agreement, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord, which imposes constraints and obligations on global firms that are absent from traditional voluntary CSR schemes, has overseen a massive program of safety renovations and upgrades.
The Stern Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University released a report in December 2015, “Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgo en Apparel Workers.” It argues that the factory inspection programs developed after the Rana Plaza disaster to address worker safety in Bangladesh exclude the majority of workers and are therefore reaching only the “tip of the iceberg.” We have carefully reviewed the Stern researchers’ methodology and data, and come to the opposite conclusion. Contrary to Stern’s assertions, more than 70% of garment workers in Bangladesh are covered by the Accord and the Alliance, and if we include workers employed in factories inspected by the ILO-advised National Initiative, the percentage of covered workers reaches 89%. We also find that Stern, due to a series of errors in data collection and analysis, greatly overestimated the number of formal factories and the size of the workforce.
The Center for Global Workers’ Rights together with the Worker Rights Consortium announce the publication of their report, “Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights.”
The privatization of Colombia’s port sector in 1993 inaugurated a process of pervasive employment flexibilization. The thousands of port workers, previously unionized on a mass scale and protected by collective bargaining agreements and indefinite employment contracts, witnessed a rapid transformation in their working conditions, highlighted by the explosion of non-standard work contracts, informal hiring and firing, and the gradual asphyxiation and/or transformation of labor unions. In Buenaventura, home to the country’s busiest seaport terminal, the flexibilization of labor relations took on a decidedly robust form.
Insertion into the global economy through global garment supply chains is often cited as a necessary step on the path toward economic development and worker well-being. Yet, in recent decades, this path has often proven elusive for developing countries. Many apparel exporting countries have remained in low value-added, low-wage, and low-development tracks despite growth in garment exports. In India, the value of apparel exports increased by 480% between 1992 and 2016, from USD 3.1 billion to USD 18 billion. At the same time, and, by one estimate, wages in the Indian apparel export sector only covered 23 percent of workers’ living expenses (WRC 2013: 108). And patterns of forced overtime, work intensity, and various forms of precarious work all appear to be rising.