Finnwatch wants to ensure human rights for women textile workers in Asia

The corona crisis should be an eye-opener for the entire textile industry, says Finnwatch. Photo: EPA-EFE / All Over Press

Women workers at clothing factories in Asia are particularly hard hit during the corona pandemic. Finnish Finnwatch is now looking for a corporate team both at home and at EU level to ensure that human rights are observed in the production chains of the clothing industry in Asia.

The pandemic has had a negative effect on the world economy and while consumers may choose to shop locally and support domestic business, millions of women have been affected by the pandemic in factories in Asia, where the majority of our clothing is made. According to the Customs investigation, Vietnam is number six on the list of countries responsible for the clothes that Finland imports.

The textile workers’ employment conditions have never been optimal and the industry has long had a reputation for poor working conditions, discrimination, violence, harassment, gender pay gaps or absolute poverty for the textile workers with approximately 80% being women. The textile industry is now, on top of that, one of the worst affected by the globally economic consequences of the pandemic and this means that these women lose their job and wages when production stops. Several stores have been forced to close their doors during company shutdowns and due to reduced demand for goods, several retailers have demanded a discounted price or completely inhibited orders.

This woman works in a clothing factory in Myanmar, where several clothing factories have had to close due to the corona pandemic. Photo: EPA-EFE / All Over Press

Christian Viegelahn, an economist at the International Labor Organization’s ILO office in Thailand confirms in an interview with Swedish Yle that the industry and especially the women in it have been hit hard. He says, “We see signs that the pandemic has led to increased violence against women.”

Women in the clothing factories in Asia are also under-represented in trade union movements as a large number of workers work illegally and a major concern caused by the crisis is that the proportion of unpaid work risks increasing.

Earlier this fall, the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international network for workers in the textile industry, reported that textile workers lost nearly $ 6 billion in wages during the first three months of the pandemic.

According to Christian Viegeland the key to success now is dialogue between all parties and governments, unions and brands should now work together for a change. ILO believes that the recent crisis can be an opportunity for fundamental reforms in the industry. It is about solving structural problems in the business model. Brands could invest in making production chains more resilient, sustainable and people-centered. The industry also needs to do more to improve basic elements such as logistics, communication, electricity supply.

Finnwatch agrees with ILO and states that human rights are not the responsibility of the consumers. The corona crisis should be an eye-opener for the entire industry.

Anu Kultalahti, researcher at Finnwatch says, “The pandemic has led to discoveries regarding weaknesses in the global production chains, and the biggest threat would be that we do not learn anything from this and do not change anything. It is not the consumer’s responsibility to ensure that human rights are observed in the production chains. The responsibility lies with the companies and in the different countries, and could be regulated through international legislation.

The legislation would ensure that all countries are legally bound to comply with human rights, and this could increase transparency in the industry.

Anu Kultalahti says, “The preconditions for such a law are now being investigated by the ministries, and with such an EU proposal is expected to be ready by next year.”

Source: Swedish Yle

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