Asian clothing manufacturers unite to pressure Western brands

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Manufacturers in the six countries that make most of the world’s clothing have forged a common front to negotiate better terms with Western fashion brands, whose canceled orders devastated Asian garment workers at first. of the pandemic.

“We want to come together to solve the common problems we face. It is not about setting a minimum price for orders. These are ethical business practices,” said Miran Ali, spokesperson for the STAR network of Asian suppliers, on Wednesday.

Ali said the new initiative – launched on Monday – would give Asian manufacturers a “stronger voice” in setting payment and delivery terms with Western high-street brands.

The group represents nine associations in six countries: the largest garment producers in the world – China, Bangladesh and Vietnam – as well as Pakistan, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Collectively, they account for 60% of global garment exports, Ali said, and employ millions of workers.

Suppliers from other countries are free to join, he added.

RAISING THE BAR

The aim is to support the textile sector, devastated by a pandemic which has aggravated widespread job insecurity and low wages.

“We come together to create standard conditions,” said Ken Loo, spokesperson for a Cambodia-based clothing association. “No one is bound by these terms, but we hope it will be a guideline for all buyers and suppliers.”

Early last year, fashion companies canceled billions of dollars in orders as COVID-19 closed stores around the world, resulting in lost wages of up to $5.8 billion, the group says pressure group based in the Netherlands Clean Clothes Campaign.

As orders picked up in the second half of 2020, Western brands demanded price cuts and delayed payments to suppliers desperate for any orders to survive, researchers said.

Ali said a united front would help companies resist such pressure and that unions would sit on his advisory board.

“There is no platform that calls a buyer on unethical regional practice. For example, a buyer cannot just place an order in South Asia, leave the responsibility to us and then decide to Ordering from another region is unethical.

Around 60 million people work in Asia’s garment industry and industry experts say falling sales have left workers open to further exploitation, whether it’s total unemployment or employees by companies that undercut their competitors to win rare contracts.

Activists urged manufacturers to use the initiative to improve conditions for workers, not just to boost their own profits.

“We hope the initiative will include a clear roadmap on how better deals with brands will lead to higher wages and safer working conditions for workers,” said Meg Lewis, head of campaigns. at Labor Behind the Label, a non-profit organization based in Brittany.

Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

Michael O. Stutler