It’s a card game: when one falls down all others follow.

Looking at the consequences brought by the global lockdown after the COVID-19 pandemic spreading is generating the question if halting so many productive fields and countries was the best solution.



Certainly safeguarding lives is the priority number one. For this reason, closing factories of non-indispensable goods seems the only way for slowing and blocking the spreading of coronavirus worldwide. Despite this, entire national economies are starting to suffer heavily from a situation that could become devastating if such actions should continue for long.

Although China’s supply chain seems to be slowly reopening, many Western brands such as Primark, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Macy’s, JCPenney plus global jeans and sportswear brands, cancelled their orders and left many South and South-Eastern Asian countries that regularly produced for them in a very difficult position.

The worst hit nations–whose activities are practically entirely closed–include Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Their economies are largely based upon manufacturing apparel and footwear.

Among many insiders’ calls, Rubana Huq, president of BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association), asked Western countries to act responsibly and keep faith to their agreements with Bangladesh manufacturers. “We are a manufacturing country and we need to work together. If Western companies will cancel their orders about 4.1 million workers will literally be hungry and on the streets in our country,” she publicly pleaded. “Please guarantee us your payments for the next three months. We know you can afford that, especially as we have been supporting you for so long,” she explained. After the recent stop imposed by the spreading of COVID-19, in Bangladesh about 1,000 garment factories were closed down and orders for over 864 million pieces worth US$3 billion export were cancelled affecting over four million workers’ survival.
Rubana Huq
Photo: BGMEA
Rubana Huq
Among the first companies to answer Huq’s plea were H&M and Inditex. The Swedish fast fashion chain  took the shipment of the ordered goods that had already been manufactured, though it is not going to place any new orders as the COVID-19 outbreak impacted its business supply chain, too.

Also important is the role each local manufacturer has been playing to support its workers. Significant were two interventions by Mostafiz Uddin, head of denim textile show Bangladesh Denim Expo and owner of the jeans manufacturing company Denim Expert, which we recently wrote about (also see here and here). “Most factories are trying to cope with this situation but are facing production shortfalls and run the risk of having to suspend production lines. The situation gives rise to the real risk that, in order to reduce immediate costs, manufacturers may start by reducing the number of workers they employ or may start reducing the hours of their shifts. Both possibilities would result in a loss of income for the workforce that in Bangladesh count for four million workers.”
Mostafiz Uddin
Photo: Bangladesh Denim Expo
Mostafiz Uddin
Uddin, whose Denim Expert Limited company will be closed for 11 days from March 25 to April 4 to safeguard his workers and employees from the coronavirus outbreak, has guaranteed he will pay full salaries to his workers and employees for this period.

Genesis-M&J, another jeans manufacturing company based in Bangladesh, has been supportive towards its workers, too. “In Genesis ensuring health safety and wellbeing for all our employees is in our regular agenda. Today, with the spread of worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic the priority in implementing health safety and hygiene best practices are very crucial to protect our employees as well as the nation as a whole. For this we have taken following safety measures from the very beginning while it was identified in Bangladesh,” said Munir Ahmed, owner of Genesis-M&J.
Munir Ahmed
Photo: M&J
Munir Ahmed
Although his company closed on March 28 and will reopen on April 5, Ahmed guarantees his workers’ salaries. “As we are running short in orders and many of them are on hold or have been cancelled, it will obviously be a big challenge for us to pay workers on time. Yet we will make sure our last resources to protect our employees in terms salary and health. In this unprecedented crisis we expect all the stakeholders to act rationally so that we survive together.” He continued: “We have earnestly requested our clients to consider the greater good for the workers of this industry who worked hard for this business till now. We must protect their only way of livelihood under any circumstances.  All we want are whatever we have produced our buyers should take that and pay us, whatever is work in progress they should also take the responsibility, as cancellation will simply destroy our industry.  Some of the buyers are doing this and helping us in a big way and I hope the rest of the buyers will find a way to comply with this.”

Pakistani companies too are involved in a similar difficult situation but are doing their best to support their employees. Shayan Abdullah, director, Neela Blue By Sapphire Fibres, commented: “We have always followed a people-centric approach and were amongst the first ones in the industry to disburse the salaries for the month of March 2020 with one week of advance pay so as to minimize disturbance and lend a helping hand to our employees.”
Shayan Abdullah
Photo: Neela Blue By Sapphire Fibres
Shayan Abdullah
The company has also chosen to put in proactive measures to effectively curb the spread of coronavirus and ensure its employees’ safety. Since the local government declared Restrictive Precautionary Measures the company has closed down for two weeks. Though it has also established protocols which shall be put in place once the government decides to relax the lockdown and allow the industry to resume production.

In this situation the company also cares for communicating with its employees at all levels. “At leadership and management levels employees, for instance, are working from home and are connected through telephone calls, e-mails, Skype, Zoom and Whattsapp,” added Abdullah. “Moreover, workers are connected to Social Security Institute and a few other supportive institutes.”

Thanks to new technology workflow can continue also for Artistic Milliners, another Pakistani denim and garment manufacturer. “Our sales, marketing and product development teams continue working and are following their daily routine, meeting up with customers, doing their meetings and presentations. The only difference is the format which just changed to physical to virtual,” commented the company.

Soorty’s executive director of global sales and marketing, Ebru Debbag, explained how the company is facing the recent problems: “We are suffering from a global crisis which is nothing we have experienced before. We are trying to feed our workers even when our factories are in lockdown. We are talking to our customers and suppliers alike and trying to negotiate to hold the goods rather than digest cancellations although our finances are blocked and our cash flow is badly hurt.”
Debbag adds: “There are a lot of payment delay requests and for us the receivables are essential for the survival of our 27,000 workers. This is where sustainability, responsibility and ethics need to come in practice.”
Ebru Debbag
Photo: Soorty
Ebru Debbag
As long as companies were operating they were concerned about employees’ conditions. For instance, Soorty started checking everyone’s temperature at the gates and held awareness presentations and sessions and health checks at individual departments. “We set up sanitation stations, reworked a seating plan for the canteens where the workers would respect the social distancing. Everyone has to wear a mask, handshakes are not allowed and the factory layouts had been redesigned to respect the social distancing,” said the company.

Naveena Denim Mills, another denim specialist from Pakistan, is aware that the overall scenario can change very easily from one moment to another–and hopefully for the best–very soon. “We are in close touch with all relevant authorities and hope to be back running as soon as possible,” commented Aydan Tüzün, executive director of global sales and marketing of the company. “In the meantime, our employees are our priority and we are paying salaries and all other benefits to all. Furthermore, we endeavor to do whatever we can do to help the lowest income bracket at the mill to weather these tough times together.”
Aydan Tüzün
Photo: Naveena Denim Mills
Aydan Tüzün
“Producing countries are especially hard hit by the pandemic. Many retailers pulled their placed orders from suppliers, cancelled shipments and payments which are vital to keep factories alive during this period,” continued Tüzün. “We are in touch with all our partners to reorganize our supply chain and cash flow in the best way possible. Many orders are either on hold or cancelled, all depending on where our customers are based. Though we are hopeful that once the situation stabilizes these will be instated and the placed orders will be taken in and paid for. We hope that the big players in the fashion industry will stand by the hardest-hit countries, and we will weather this crisis altogether in solidarity. Let’s not forget one day there will be an after-coronavirus period. We are all together in this.”



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