When the COVID-19 crisis devastated the garment industry in 2020, Better Work responded on the ground, working hand-in-hand with partner factories to mitigate the damage to workers and their livelihoods.
GENEVA, Switzerland—On June 1, Better Work is publishing annual reports for six established country programmes: Nicaragua, Jordan, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Indonesia and the inaugural report for its new programme launched in Egypt. These reports detail how the programme responded to the unprecedented repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the apparel sector, shaking supply chains to their core and putting millions of workers’ jobs at risk.
Women, who make up approximately 80% of garment workers, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In response, Better Work adapted its trainings and outreach to address the particular challenges faced by women, including their health and safety and the specific needs of pregnant women.
Better Work’s response in each country was crafted to meet differing local needs, adapting global approaches to specific national circumstances. The reports provide results from initiatives on social dialogue, wage protection, and health and safety measures taken in partner factories during the pandemic.
“At the beginning of 2020, we could not have anticipated that a pandemic would sweep the globe or the devastating impact it would have on the apparel and textile industry,” said Better Work Director Dan Rees. “We could not have imagined how disrupted our work and lives would be. Yet, Better Work has managed to make positive strides toward a more resilient and sustainable way of working.”
The reports include key takeaways on how countries were affected by COVID-19 and Better Work’s responses:
- In Haiti, a survey of more than 3,300 workers indicated over 66% of workers experienced work disruptions, such as temporary suspension, and 90% had to reduce food consumption. Better Work Haiti collaborated with the WHO to train medical personnel working in the sector, and the programme kept operations going by working with government labour inspectors to carry out reliable joint assessments when staff was prohibited from factory visits.
- In Jordan, 84% of surveyed workers reported reductions in working hours and income in June 2020, and 75% reported greater mental stress. Better Work Jordan managed to relay news and support to migrant workers isolated in dormitories during COVID-19 quarantines through over 2,000 phone calls, in addition to online messages. The programme also introduced a new mental health initiative in 2021 to respond to these reported needs.
- The factories surveyed by Better Work Egypt indicated multi-million dollar losses in order cancellations. Yet, the programme brought together national stakeholders to enrol 40 participating factories and do an initial assessment of 75 per cent of those factories.
The reports also offer a preview of the plans Better Work country programmes have for recovery in 2021, implementing the lessons learned from the past year. These efforts include multi-stakeholder initiatives to strengthen national social protections, creation of shared industry strategies for creating a more resilient industry, and increased use of hybrid in-person remote in-factory services to maximize impact and scale.