Ways the Apparel Industry can respond to the COVID pandemic

As a part of the COVID action response, the government has already taken initial steps by imposing a nationwide lockdown along with a multitude of relief measures for the needy and vulnerable. There is a resumption of industrial activities in certain pockets, with some restrictions to control infection spread and promote prevention. However, the uncertainty over the regulations as per Government guidelines has resulted in discomfort and panic among various industry groups. A huge influx of reverse migration of the labour force is being witnessed across all major cities and industrial hubs of the nation, with their dignity, safety and security being compromised at every step.

The Indian apparel sector, the world’s fourth largest producer of textile and garments is suffering a major setback due to COVID-19 pandemic. The sector is not just a foreign exchange earner, but an employment oriented industry, with a workforce of  15 million among whom 60% are women. Garment factories do not have any immediate payments, experiencing cancellation of confirmed export orders, whereas buying houses and brands expect discounts and indemnity; workforces have not received salaries in the past two months.  

To keep millions from being pushed into further poverty and marginalization, the current situation demands action from all key actors in the Industry supply chain.  Governments and corporations must prioritize workers’ protection to lay the foundation for a comeback in business and economic growth. Collaborative efforts by each actor must focus on rehabilitating local economies and livelihoods through recovery funds and financial assistance and above all, recognizing and addressing immediate needs of workforces. The Industry along with its key stakeholders must focus on both short term immediate response and for long term requirements for sustainable impact.

As a part of the COVID Action Collab with inputs from Industry Stakeholders, Catalyst group has developed a framework which summarises the apparel sectors’ circularity on COVID-19 action and its impact. 

The framework provides clear continuity of roles and responsibilities across the multiple stakeholders which will lead to job security, gender equity, health and well-being. Specific actions are called out for each of the actors to prioritise health and business together, reviving the market and reassuring employment with dignity, safety, security and overall well-being for everyone.  

The key result  areas are:

  1. Health risk prevention and responsiveness on COVID 19 
  2. Job security, employment of workforces
  3. Economical revival & industry survival
  4. Stabilization and circularity of markets
  5. Prevention of reverse migration
  6. Improved foreign exchange
  7. Economic growth and stability
  8. Prevention and management of health and well being
  9. Equality and equity
  10. Contribution and achievement towards key SDGs (1, 2, 5, 8, 6, 10, 12)

COVID pandemic may have disrupted our regularity but rather than just looking at it as a crisis, can we treat this as an opportunity to get rid of the imperfections and barriers in existing systems and policies that have long existed.

In the words of renowned author and humanitarian & social justice activist, Sonya Renee Taylor, ‘We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustions, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and nature.’  

For more details, please write to contactus@swasti.org

Authors:

Priyamvada Tiwari, Program Manager, Wellbeing for Workforce, Swasti

Shankar AG, Associate Director, Swasti

Shaonli Chakraborty, Director, Wellbeing for Workforce and Gender, Swasti

Shiv Kumar, Founder and Chief Mentor, Catalyst Group 

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