The report claims documented income loss, indebtedness, school closure, and migration indicate there will be an uptick in child, forced, and bonded labour conditions

The report claims documented income loss, indebtedness, school closure, and migration indicate there will be an uptick in child, forced, and bonded labour conditions

Informal workers in India and Nepal's apparel supply chains have suffered extreme hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report, which calls for new standards to ensure rights for the most marginalised and promote improved sustainability.

The research report 'Hidden and Vulnerable: The Impact of Covid-19 on Child, Forced and Bonded Labor,' published by non-profit GoodWeave International, studies the apparel, home textile, and carpet supply chains. It claims documented income loss, indebtedness, school closure, and migration indicate there will be an uptick in child, forced, and bonded labour conditions.

"This report represents the most in-depth study yet of the damaging impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on workers at the bottom of textile supply chains in South Asia," says Siddharth Kara, British Academy global professor and Rights Lab associate professor of human trafficking and modern slavery, University of Nottingham.

"The data reveals immediate and longer-term consequences on vulnerable populations, especially children, that must be addressed as soon as possible by brands and key stakeholders in order to avoid losing so much of the progress we have made."

The research, conducted in June and July 2020 with technical guidance from Kara, found workers have seen significant disruption to their income due to the pandemic, which has exacerbated forced labour risks to workers. The combination of school closures and decreased incomes has also placed children at increased risk of child labour, while females have experienced more severe impacts from the pandemic than males.

"There were 152 million child labourers around the world making products we purchase every day prior to the pandemic, down nearly 40% since 2000, according to the International Labor Organization," says Nina Smith, CEO of GoodWeave International. "This research confirms there is now significant risk these gains will be lost. We hope it informs companies, governments and other stakeholders about how to take specific and urgent action to ensure immediate relief and longer-term resiliency."

Data in the report was collected through interviews with informal workers in the two countries and three sectors. Findings show an urgent, short-term need for governments, civil society organisations, and brands and suppliers sourcing in the region to help workers with their basic needs while addressing longer-term structural causes of their extreme vulnerabilities.

As production ramps up, the report emphasises the importance of addressing labour rights for all workers, living wages, ethical recruitment practices, as well as issues such as worker financial literacy and access to banking.

It provides 14 recommendations for NGOs, governments, and companies, and brands to follow which protect vulnerable children and workers, and ensure resiliency in supply chains.

For NGOs:

  • Deliver aid and essential services
  • Support workers, especially migrant workers, to acquire necessary documentation to receive relief
  • Support children, especially girls, to continue learning from home
  • Advocate for mandatory human rights for workers, living wages, and strengthened labour laws in consumer and producer countries

For companies and brands:

  • Inform suppliers of estimated timelines for order resumption
  • Support on-ground work to provide essential relief for vulnerable workers
  • Build consumer awareness of direct impacts on workers and create opportunities for consumers to support vulnerable communities
  • Encourage suppliers to give first priority to furloughed or laid-off workers when production resumes

For Governments:

  • Continue distribution of critical relief, inclusive of informal and migrant workers
  • Strengthen labor laws
  • Enable subsidised transportation for migrant workers between workplaces and home villages
  • Build awareness of available relief channels
  • Establish and enforce mandatory protections for workers
  • Strengthen distance learning options for school-age students

Click here to access the full report.