Garment Workers Who Lost Jobs in Pandemic Still Wait for Severance Pay

On the cracking phone line, Ashraf Ali, a 35-year-old father in Bangladesh, described being suicidal and desperate to feed his family. Sokuntia Yi in Cambodia, She said that she slept overnight worrying about how she would repay the debt taken to build her house. And at only 23, Dina Arriva in Indonesia said she was hopeless about her future as her district no longer had a job.

All were once employed as textile workers in factories producing clothes and shoes for companies such as Nike, Walmart and Benetton. But those jobs have disappeared in the last 12 months, as major brands have been canceled in the United States and Europe Or refused to pay for orders In the wake of the epidemic and suppliers resorted to mass layoffs or closures.

Most textile workers receive extremely low wages, and some have no savings. Which means that only one thing stands between them and Extreme poverty There are legally mandated benefits that are owed on termination of most textile workers wherever they are in the world.

According to a new report by the Worker Rights Consortium, however, garment workers such as Mr. Ali, Ms. Yee and Ms. Dina Arriva are being denied some or all of these wages.

the study 31 export garment factories in nine countries were identified where, the author concluded, a total of 37,637 fired workers were not paid the full severance of the legally earned $ 39.8 million.

According to the group’s executive director, Scott Nova, the report covers about 10 percent of the global apparel factory with mass layoffs over the past year. The group is investigating another 210 factories in 18 countries, leading the authors to estimate that the final data set would expand to 213 factories including severance payment violations affecting workers of more than 160,000 $ 1,1,000,000.

“Sewerage wedge theft is a long-standing problem in the textile industry, but the sector has grown dramatically over the past year,” Nova said. He said the figures were likely to increase as the retail industry continued to have economic downturns related to the economic epidemic. They believe the lost earnings could be between $ 500 million and $ 850 million.

The authors of the report say that the only realistic solution to the crisis would be the so-called construction Severance guarantee fund. This initiative has been designed in collaboration with 220 unions. other Labor rights organizations will be financed by mandatory payments from signed brands that can be levied in cases of mass non-payment by a factory or supplier.

Many household names contained in the report made money during the epidemic. AdventuressFor example, in 2020 there was an 84 percent increase in net profit, while Inditex made 11.4 billion euros in gross profit, about $ 13.4 billion. Nike, next And Walmart Everyone also had a healthy income.

Some industry experts believe that the purchasing practices of the industry’s power players make a major contribution to the payoff crisis. The overwhelming majority of fashion retailers do not own their own production facilities, instead contracting with factories in countries where labor is cheaper. Brands set prices, often squeezing suppliers to offer more for less, and can move to sourcing locations at will. Factory owners in developing countries say they are forced to work at least margins, with some workers able to invest in wages or security and severance.

“The supplier falls on it,” said Genevi LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield, England, who focuses on international labor standards. “But there is a reason why the spotlight falls on the big actors ahead of the supply chain. Their behavior can affect the ability of factories to fulfill their responsibilities.”

“Historically, the severance has not received the same attention as other types of compensation,” Ms. LeBron said. “But it should. Often employees who lose their jobs are in their most vulnerable position. When they are unpaid they are owed, many are forced to take desperate or dangerous measures to survive. “

All major fashion brands publish a Labor Rights Code of Conduct. Most say they guarantee that suppliers will pay workers their legally mandated benefits. But in some cases, factory owners may be hidden or may refuse to pay fired employees. In others, the owners claim that exploitative contracts brought them into bankruptcy or made it impossible for them to reserve money for severance.

There are textile workers caught in the middle.

In Bangladesh, Mr. Ali worked as a weaving operator at the A-One factory in Dhaka for 17 years, laying off 1,400 workers before it closed in April 2020. The factory, which was listed by Benetton and Next as a supplier, was late paying workers in its final months and still did not make any severance payments, which by Bangladeshi law amounted to about one month per year Is equal to wages. Mr. Ali, who owes $ 4,130, has struggled to find anything other than accidental construction work.

“So many people have lost their jobs, which makes the situation more desperate,” Mr. Ali said in Bengali. “I believe the money will come, because it will change everything for me.”

The former owner of A-One did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In a statement over email, Benetton called the commercial value of his relationship with A-One “marginal” and did not answer questions about severance payments.

A Next spokesperson said the factory had previously prepared orders for a subsidiary brand, Lipsey and that brand Code of conduct Workers included checks to make sure what was owed to them after the factory was closed or laid off. The company did not answer any questions about missing payments by A-One.

When contacted by The New York Times about wage theft in factories, most brands dropped their relationships, even though the Corporate Code of Conduct does not specify that the responsibilities for workers are proportionate to their order size.

Ms. Yee was one of 774 workers who were housed in a Cambodia factory from Hana I in June, who supplied to Walmart and Zara. The report estimated the workers owed more than $ 1 million. Although she received an initial $ 500, Ms. Yee, 33, still owed $ 1,290 and was still unemployed until this month.

Zara’s parent company Inditex said it did not work with the factory for five years. Walmart said it believed the factory paid all of the restrictions given to workers in June. Factory owners did not respond to requests for comment via email.

A Walmart spokesman said, “We are saddened by the unfortunate financial hardship that has plagued many businesses due to the epidemic and are particularly concerned about the impact it will have on their employees.” He said the company made “efforts to review and hold accountable suppliers for compliance” with their standards and local laws.

According to the report, the Hulu Garment Factory in Phnom Penh, a former supplier to Walmart, Amazon, Macy’s and Adidas, has $ 3.63 million of 1,000 former workers.

Adidas said it used the company only for small orders. The owners of Hulu did not respond to a request for comment.

Of all the companies contacted by The Times, only Gap, which placed orders in Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Jordan with the factories cited in the report, specifically said it had investigated the allegations leveled at the report.

A Gap spokesperson said, “In all cases we either confirmed that the severance was granted or there was an arrear of any kind,”

As consumers pressured companies to pressurize and clean up their supply chains, brands “are shrinking their supplier bases,” Ms. LeBron said.

“That may well produce long-term gains, but that would mean further disintegration, closure and layoffs,” she said. “And that means that the seriousness dilemma is going to be even more common.”

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