The early months of 2020 saw 50 million garment workers lose wages, as the economic impacts of COVID-19 caused Australian retail foot traffic to fall by 71%. Clothing sales plummeted and fashion companies were forced to furlough staff and temporarily shut stores.
By May, over 30% of Bangladeshi garment workers reported that their children had gone without food because of the crisis.
This pandemic has the potential to reverse a decade’s worth of progress made toward improving conditions for vulnerable garment workers, prompting Baptist World Aid to shift the approach to their annual Ethical Fashion Report to motivate fashion companies to stand with workers in their global supply chain during the pandemic.
“We knew we needed to adjust our criteria with the guide because COVID has affected so much,” says Peter Keegan, Director of Advocacy at Baptist World Aid.
Launching on October 28, the special pandemic issue of the Ethical Fashion Report highlights the extent to which more than 400 well-known brands worked to address the immediate risks facing workers in global fashion supply chains throughout the pandemic.
“Embedding a vision and practice in the fashion world that treats all workers – regardless of where they work in the supply chain – with dignity and respect, is critical”, says Mr Keegan.
The report found, though, that the crisis has acted as a catalyst for change, with many Australian fashion brands working to improve the gaps and weaknesses in existing ethical source practices. More than 70% of companies surveyed in 2020 could demonstrate that they had taken at least some deliberate positive action to support vulnerable garment workers.
Despite these positive results, the crisis has also exposed the areas still needing vast improvement in the fashion industry, with no companies assessed in the report being able to demonstrate an end-to-end supply chain response to the impact of the pandemic.
Worker voice systems, including grievance mechanisms and worker unions were found to be the largest industry wide weakness within the report, with only 15% of companies surveyed providing evidence of strong and effective grievance mechanisms throughout the pandemic.
As well as advocating for change within the fashion industry, the report is also designed to empower Australian Christians to make ethical purchasing decisions that reflect a heart for the vulnerable.
“It’s important that Australian consumers know that the choices they make in a store or online have the power to pass on opportunity and economic dignity to global workers, and sustainability to our world,” says Mr Keegan.
To order your copy of the COVID Fashion Report and make a difference for garment workers, head to baptistworldaid.org.au/ethical-fashion-guide