More than 50 countries around the world with a combined population of around 4.2bn will hold national and regional elections in 2024, according to Forbes.
This includes some of the world’s biggest fashion sourcing countries: Bangladesh (which announced its ruling party’s victory on 6 January), Pakistan (with its general election scheduled for 8 February), Indonesia (which is scheduled to have a vote on 14 February) and India (which plans to host an election between April and May this year).
Plus, 2024 will see key fashion consumer countries go to the polls, including the US and UK. It should also be noted the European Union will hold its own parliamentary elections in June.
But, the effects of both recent and upcoming elections are already taking their toll on the global fashion industry.
Impact of general elections and minimum wage rises on apparel manufacturing sector
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina kept hold of power yesterday (7 January) in what was described as a low-turnout vote by The New York Times with a lack of opposition due to candidates either being in jail or off the ballots.
The election day itself was fairly uneventful given it was arguably a one-horse race. However, the day before (6 January) Reuters reported polling booths and a train being set alight in political protests with at least four killed.
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This should come as no surprise to fashion sourcing executives who watched closely from the sidelines at the end of 2023 as garment worker protests for higher minimum wages collided with wider pre-2024 general election political protests and led to the tragic deaths of at least four garment workers and injuries to numerous others.
Unfortunately, the key fashion sourcing country is not out of the woods yet as three labour unions have accused some Bangladesh garment factories of firing hundreds of workers for being part of the protests.
This is despite global fashion brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, GAP, Levi Strauss, Puma, PVH and Under Armour urging Bangladesh’s Government back in October to ensure there would be no retaliation against workers seeking fair wages before or after the minimum wage rise review.
Last May, fashion sourcing country Türkiye also had its general elections. And the whopping 49% minimum wage rise that its re-elected president Tayyip Erdogan announced for 2024 to tackle inflation is already a cause for concern.
Mustafa Gültepe, Turkish importers assembly (TİM) and Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association (IHKIB) president said high labour costs in the fashion industry harmed competitiveness last year.
Following this new minimum wage rise he’s now keen to encourage close business partners not to focus solely on price and to build a sustainable future in collaborations as well as in production.
At the other end of the spectrum, the US general election result, which is due in November, is arguably the one anyone and everyone working within the global fashion supply chain will be keeping a close eye on given the country’s massive fashion consumer spend.
However, Sewn Products Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas (SPESA)’s immediate past chairman Ed Gribbin told Just Style earlier last year he didn’t expect there to be much change from the status quo regardless of who wins. He pointed out that neither the previous Trump administration nor the current Biden one (both of which are expected to go up against each other later this year) “had a huge appetite for new trade initiatives”.
Another election for our sector to watch closely will be Russia’s on 15-17 March. The Russia-Ukraine war has really taken its toll on raw material and fuel costs for fashion manufacturers and has led to a cost-of-living crisis and high rates of inflation for many fashion consumers.
Of course, there is little question of the outcome with Vladimir Putin expected to have a fifth term in power, but the lead-up to the election could lead to protests against the war and possibly show an appetite for change from his nation.
For better or worse all of these general elections do give fashion executives a small heads-up of what could disrupt the status quo in key sourcing countries in the coming months.
Fashion sourcing executives are wise to stay on their toes with plenty of plans B, C, D and Es to ensure clothing products make it safely from manufacture to market as we embark on another year of crazy geopolitical turmoil.
Just Style’s top stories last week
Garment factories in Bangladesh have reportedly terminated the employment of hundreds of workers following protests for higher wages in October, despite global fashion brands urging the Bangladesh Government not to retaliate against participants both during and after the minimum wage review.
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Browning West, LP, a significant and long-term shareholder of Canadian activewear company, Gildan Activewear Inc. has issued a letter to shareholders outlining its intent to remedy the board’s “mishandled” CEO succession and establish the “highest quality governance in the company’s history.”
The Americans for Free Trade (AFT) coalition is “frustrated” with the short notice the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has given to businesses to prepare for an extension to its reinstated and Covid-related exclusions in its China Section 301 investigation and urges USTR to release the results of its four-year tariffs review “immediately”.
The chairman of British department store Marks & Spencer (M&S) Archie Norman shared the company’s ambition to transform into a “global brand” and signalled plans to expand globally, according to reports.
The US Department of Labor has secured a $1.1m settlement for 165 garment workers in California who fell victim to what is described as an illegal denial of overtime wages by four Los Angeles sewing contractors.
JD Sports is anticipated to fall short of its ambitious £1bn ($1.2bn) profit target for the year, attributing the shortfall to “cautious consumer behaviour” and a “softer” quarter influenced by milder weather during the Christmas period.