Covid-19 is undoubtedly one of the most devastating pandemics the world has ever experienced crushing the global economy, leading to the collapse of industries and firms, rendering people jobless. This just exacerbated the pre-existing recession severely. Now keeping the bull’s eye on garment industries it is evident that cloth manufacturers whether organised or unorganised have faced critical losses leading to shut down of numerous factories. This has had a domino- effect on workers followed by retailers, contractors and their employers and finally affecting the consumers.
China being world’s largest raw material exporter initiated the breakage of supply chains as workers couldn’t ply due to lockdown resulting in shutting down of factories. This affected many countries mainly Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia as their raw material sources were predominantly from China. Till then the industrial growth of these countries were on upward trends. Lack of raw materials affected both domestic and international orders. Without profits, factories could not function due to overpriced maintenance, falling of currency value which again made it impossible to import raw materials from outside making it a vicious cycle.
Countries like India and Europe with a comparatively higher domestic demand faced similar issues as China with lack of workforce due to lockdown. India had most of its workers migrating back to home villages as factories were shut down. This had its effects even after the circuit breaker due to the still prevailing lack of workers as transportation systems were closed preventing their return. Traditional weavers on the other hand had huge quantities of end products but were unable to sell them due to closed retail shops and lack of consumers. Handmade traditional wears are generally produced by small scale industries which are unorganised. So they are either weaved at home or in a small space unlike huge factories.
Many countries around the globe enforced lockdown to cease rapid spread of the virus thus, supressing demand which reduced new orders. Top brands like H&M and Zara cancelled pre-booked orders before shipping to prevent stock flooding. Lack of new orders, stagnant end products and maintenance costs threatened the survival of even established producers. Even though China resumed its raw material supply factories around the world couldn’t afford for new intake. Moreover countries were reluctant about resuming trade with China. They wanted to establish new connections with other countries and segregate raw material import to prevent such a crisis again. Having majority of the raw material supply from China was the fundamental reason for shortage.
Garment industries are perceived to function on “flexible” contracts. Labourers are employed on seasonal basis. When demand soars labourers are employed in large numbers; when demand plunges many lose their jobs. Job security, adequate pay, paid leaves are unheard words. With such biased contracts, job sustainability during such a pandemic would be uncertain. Worst yet, is the plight of sub-contracted home workers which remain invisible. Many industries out-source production to such home workers who take care of assembling and embroidery. This saves the entire production costs of the industries but adds burden to the workers. So, the earnings of these sub-contracted workers are generally meagre and on piece basis. With such an outbreak the employment of home workers are endangered. Added to this, their cramped household doesn’t permit large amounts of stock intake which can be finished over the lockdown period for future sales. Such workers are predominantly women, who also have to fulfil domestic requirements like chores and child care given that the entire family is at home.
The plague caused by this pandemic has left our financial situation in a dismal state. Industries can only be revived on governmental intervention. Many countries have offered to give tax exemption or financial aid to domestic industries to keep them sailing. Workers below poverty line are offered with survival supplies and allocated with monetary funds to prevent them from starving. Many workers rights’ organisations have offered to lend a helping hand to make their lives better. They emphasise the need for the employers to support the workers instead of leaving them stranded. The producers have been earning profits for decades by paying meagre salaries. They claim that this is the time when workers and their rights be protected by their employers instead of being sent out in the name of cost-cutting.
Even with governmental support it would be difficult to bail out industries which are running in losses. Covid-19 has jeopardized industries all over the world. Even after the culmination of the pandemic it would take at least a year to regain profitable numbers. But online sales have supported garment industries and retailers to a great extent. It is believed that online industries would get boosted several fold after this pandemic. Many new raw material producers would emerge. But the main solution to profit is strengthening domestic sales. Many new brands have to emerge as successful as international brands so that income will be independent of export value alone thus rendering in-country consumers as well as foreign exchange flow. Such developments require both monetary and innovative investments. With governmental support and efforts from new brands such a development is definitely possible.