The apparel and textile industries employ tens of millions of workers globally

The apparel and textile industries employ tens of millions of workers globally

The International Apparel Federation (IAF) is adding to calls for solidarity and collaboration by the apparel supply chain and its stakeholders – including governments and consumers – to reduce the damage to suppliers in the face of the coronavirus crisis. 

"As stores close around the globe and orders stop, loss of income throughout the supply chain is unavoidable. No buyer can be expected to sacrifice its own existence or the jobs of its employees to save its suppliers," the association says. 

"But collaboratively searching for ways to reduce the damage to suppliers is not only an urgent need, but feasible. Solidarity in the face of this crisis means collaborating with industry members to bridge the income gap for workers and the demand gap for business. 

"Operating with the objective of moving as much of the pain upstream in the supply chain will create breaches of trust that will be difficult to repair when we emerge from this crisis." 

IAF secretary general Matthijs Crietee notes: "Choices made now will be scrutinised later."

The Covid-19 crisis is an unprecedented shock to the supply chain, creating a dramatic domino effect of revenue losses. In Germany, offline fashion retail's sales in the first three weeks of March dropped by 42% compared to the same period the year before, and in Bangladesh orders cancelled in the past few days already represent a value of over EUR2bn.

With members including small and medium sized apparel brands, apparel manufacturers and their associations, and global suppliers to the industry in nearly 50 countries, the IAF directly and indirectly represents hundreds of thousands of companies. 

The apparel and textile industries are made up of the world's longest and most globally dispersed supply chains, employing tens of millions of workers in total. 

"Each individual company will have to determine what line of buying behaviour it does not want to cross if it can in any way avoid it," Crietee says. 

It is IAF's view that the global normative framework that has become available in the form of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and translated into the practice of the apparel and footwear industries by the OECD's Due Diligence Guidance can help make companies make these choices. 

"In the past few years, we have seen strong and public commitments from leading brands and retailers for responsible purchasing practices in the supply chain in line with recommendations from OECD due diligence guidance. This climate is the most important and public test of those commitments." 

Supply chain solidarity is crucial but not sufficient in the light of this crisis, the IAF believes. 

"International solidarity is needed from governments and citizens to help financially support the tens of millions of workers that make our clothing. 

"So in addition to calling on the industry to enact supply chain solidarity, the IAF is urgently asking the appropriate multilateral organisations and the financial support of national governments to step in to quickly make an industry-wide support plan for the most vulnerable parts of the global apparel and textile industries."

The IAF's viewpoint joins other rallying calls for steps to protect global garment workers during the Covid-19 pandemic:

See also: How coronavirus is impacting the global clothing industry