By Dr Rajesh Bheda
We are in the middle of a global crisis. Humanity is facing what can be called an international emergency, probably worst in modern history, in the form of the Corona virus pandemic. It has caught people by a cruel surprise and worst fears of this catastrophe impacting the world are looming large in front of us. The spread is global and almost all countries are impacted and fighting the disease.
There are challenges for many to make it through the crisis and to survive. It is too early to comprehend the economic impact of this crisis which has hit hard the global structures.
Garment industry happens to be one of the worst sufferers. Global fashion brands and retailers have pulled the shutters down in their major consumption markets of USA and Europe. Many are reported to have suspended the deliveries of ready merchandise parked at the ports awaiting to be shipped and in the factories across the world. Majority of this supplier base is the factories in Asia.
There is no doubt that, this would have a devastating effect on millions of garment workers and businesses that work on thin margins. As per BGMEA estimates, till 2nd April, shipments worth 2.96 Billion US$ have already been cancelled or suspended, involving 1085 factories and 2.15 Million workers. In India, the factories in Tirupur have been shut 22nd March onwards. The factory owners have promised to pay full salary to workers. Rest of the factories in India have also been shut with National Lock down from 25th March. Industry in Myanmar has already seen some factory closures and it is not much different for other apparel manufacturing nations like Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and others.
It is true that we are all in it together and everybody is suffering or will suffer. This involves Brands, retailers, importers, sourcing companies, apparel manufactures, sub-contractors and most importantly, the workers. However, we must realise that the capacity to cope with disaster is not same for all. If we can work together and help each other, the pain of this Pandemic can be minimised. Brands who have benefitted low cost imports from supplier countries need to pay their role to support their partners. As it is said “Pain when shared reduces and joy when shared multiplies”.
The Indian Textile Minister Ms. Smriti Irani has made an appeal the global apparel buyers not to cancel the shipments. She has said “Let us show the world that we can do Commerce with Compassion.” BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Huq has also made a spirited appeal to buyers, not to abandon Bangladesh industry in the hour of disaster. It is time to listen to one’s heart and act in compassionate manner. These appeals received a lot of media attention across the globe and seem to have made some difference. By the 31st March, as per news reports six retailors including H&M, Inditex, M&S, Kiabi, PVH and Target have confirmed that they will receive the orders already produced and under the production.
As the appeals to the international buyers have started showing some results and pressure is mounting on others to act, I would like to focus on what can the industry do with special focus on addressing the health concerns and supporting workforce.
On the humanitarian response side, we have several initiatives taken by the fashion industry like:
All these efforts need to be lauded and thousands more are needed globally as the challenge is enormous.
I am sharing some of my thoughts that the members of the apparel manufacturing industry may find worth considering. These are presented separately for the apparel manufacturers that are still operating factories depending on their country, risk perception/ Government advise and the manufacturers that have already closed the factories as a precautionary measure.
I hope some of these thoughts are useful to you. I shall be pleased to hear your thoughts on how you think the industry can contribute further. One thing is certain, if we join our hands with a resolve, we can reduce a lot of suffering and bring smiles on a few faces in this hour of crisis. Let us work together to support the most vulnerable and most valuable players of our supply chains, the garment workers!
About the Author:
Dr. Rajesh Bheda, Managing Director, Rajesh Bheda Consulting, is a leading consultant, researcher and educator with over three decades of contribution to apparel industry. He is known for his book ‘Managing Productivity in the Apparel Industry’ and inspiring supply-chain collaboration for win-win performance improvement. He is consultant to International Trade Centre- Geneva, International Labour Organisation, EBRD, CBI-Netherlands, Asian Productivity Organisation-Japan and several Govt. bodies.
His organisation, Rajesh Bheda Consulting has emerged as a trusted partner of international brands, apparel manufacturers, industry associations and development agencies. Before forming RBC, he was Professor and Chairperson of Fashion Technology Department at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, India. He can be reached at [email protected]