Garment Workers’ Stories

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

As part of the Women and Girls Solidarity Fund, we’ve made emergency grants to partners in Bangladesh to provide essential supplies including food, protective masks and soap to garment workers who have been left destitute.

Garment workers have been left without work as factories have closed due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, it is impossible to save and workers are now unable to pay for housing or food. We heard a number of stories from workers who have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis:

“I am Suraiya and I am working as helper for last 4 months in Interlink Apparels Ltd. I have a daughter of 5 years old and a son of 10 years old. 10 years ago, I had early marriage at the age of 16. I did not work in the garment factory before but it was very difficult for us to run the family with the sole income of my husband. Due to the struggle of severe poverty I came to Dhaka city four months back and joined in a garment factory. My husband used to run a tea stall in Gazipur area. We have to pay 4000 bdt as house rent. It is still a struggle to run a family of four members after paying half of the wage for house rent.

Due to the lockdown, my husband cannot run his tea stall anymore and I have been laid off by my factory. I do not know whether I will get my full wage or not. We do not have any income now but we have to pay our house rent, we have to feed our children. The situation is the worst now. After paying the house rent we will not have any money to have our food even. We do not know what will happen to us.” – Suraiya, 26

“My factory is a sweater factory where I work in knitting section. In November, 2019 the factory was declared closed informing over the phone without paying the due wage. When we asked the wage for that period the management informed that, if you want to continue the work without wage come into the office, otherwise we need not to come.

The factory re-opened on February 8, 2020. We got the wage of February at the beginning of March then again the factory has closed. The factory declared closure and we are worried about the wages as we were not paid for March. The Eid is ahead and we are worried about our Eid bonus as well.

There are four members in our family and we are going through terrible suffering due to poverty. We are surviving somehow by having only one time meal a day and the condition is same among other co-workers as well. We do not have any money in our hand now and the shops are not allowing further buying without paying the prior dues. The landlord is also asking for the rent and asking to leave the house if unable to pay the rent. Where we will go and what we will eat now? When we do not have any food, maintaining social distance and thinking about hygiene issues seems like a luxury to us. We need support to live.” – Md Shahin Alam

Image: National Garment Workers Federation

“I work in a garment factory. Our factory has laid us off and we have not received the due wages. We are worried about not getting paid, but if we do that the amount will not be in full. They will deduct our wage. According to the labor law I have heard that, we can get the half of the wage for the laid off period but that will be very small in amount. How we will manage our house rent and food with this amount? I went to the local government official for the government’s relief support but the officer said as the government is supporting the RMG sector that I am not eligible for this support.” – Mos. Laboni Akter Salma

These are just a few stories of the millions of garment workers impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. We need to hold brands and retailers accountable and ensure that garment workers are provided for in this time of crisis.

We are still fundraising to support as many women and girls as possible with our emergency appeal. You can donate by clicking here. 


Domestic Violence: The Second Pandemic

Image: UNICEF/Nesbitt

Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO in China reported a huge increase in the country’s domestic violence cases in February. Jingzhou, a province in Hubei, received 3 times more reports in February 2020 than in the previous year. As cases of Covid-19 began to climb around the world, so did cases of domestic violence.

As the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, women’s rights activists and service providers warned us that domestic violence victims would be overlooked, survivor services would be de-prioritised and the fear and tension during the crisis would result in a sharp increase in cases. As we saw the numbers of domestic violence cases rapidly increase in China where the pandemic started, we could assume that this pattern would follow in other countries. This assumption was proven to be true, as there has been an increase in domestic violence cases as lockdowns started all over the world.

Domestic abuse was a global human right issue even in pre-pandemic times. According to statistics, 1 in 3 women face physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetuated by an intimate partner. While this makes violence against women the most widespread human rights abuses, it is also the least reported. Domestic abuse is often still viewed as a ‘normal’ act due to women’s subordinate position in society and families. Other reasons may include fear, lack of resources and support, or illegal status of refugees. The last is because women who do not have a right to stay permit often do not dare to go to the police in fear of being deported. This is why it is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, encouraged women with illegal status not to fear deportation but to report abuses.

The women who experience violence are vulnerable to sexual, reproductive and mental health risks. For example, victims are twice as likely to suffer from depression and 1.5 times more likely to get STIs. These risks are increased in times of conflict, let it be economic crisis, civil war, or a disease outbreak. It is therefore safe to assume that this will also be the case for millions of women across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While for some of us staying home means safety, for many women and children home means the opposite. The quarantine poses a special situation as women are trapped inside with the abusers, who are more easily triggered by things due to being in such a stressful situation. It is important to note however, that the pandemic does not cause domestic abuse, but creates ‘conductive contexts’.

We have seen several cases of the increase of domestic violence cases globally. For example in the USA, a domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon doubled in only one week in March. The American national domestic violence hotline reported a dozens of callers whose abusers are using the coronavirus outbreak to control and isolate them. As everyone is focused on the public health crisis, hotlines fear that violence happening in the private sphere will be overlooked. Some states even seized this opportunity to make it more difficult to access abortion as ‘non-essential’ healthcare. Even though, logically, if domestic violence cases are going up so will unwanted pregnancies.

Numbers of cases of domestic abuse is also going up in Lebanon. Calls to the domestic violence hotline increased by 110% in March 2020. The NGO Abaad started a movement dubbed #LockDownNotLockUp, where people stood outside their balconies hanging sheets with the number of the domestic abuse hotline.

Image: PATRICK BAZ/Abaad/AFP via Getty Images.

Activists in Italy reported a drop in calls to the helpline centre only to receive a record amount of text messages and emails. As victims are forced to be in the same rooms as their abusers they often cannot voice their problems out loud and this is the only way they can let others know what is happening. It is also important to remember that if women are afraid to ring helplines, but numbers of reports are still increasing globally, how many more cases are happening that goes unreported.

In the UK calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% in March. Another hotline, Respect, had a 26.86% increase in calls but a 125% increase in website recordings in the week starting 30 March. This shows how women in Italy are not alone, women in the UK are often unable to make phone calls and try for a silent solution as well. Additionally, The  Men’s Advice Line, who care for male victims of domestic abuse, also had an increase in calls of 16.6% and an increase of website recordings 42%.

Avon and Somerset police reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in two weeks, from 718 to 868. The founder of Counting Dead Women, Karen Ingala Smith, recorded at least 16 women who were killed by men in the UK between 23 March and 12 April. This is at least twice as much as the average in the last 10 years. The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, said police are ready to deal with a spike in domestic abuse calls. The leader of the Women’s Equality party called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes under the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.

In early May the government pledged £76 million new funding for domestic and sexual violence support, vulnerable children & modern slavery, but the EVAW Coalition is calling for more detail on how the money will be distributed. They are also asking the government to follow the BAME demand for ethnicity monitoring of all COVID- 19 cases, as BAME communities are disproportionately affected and therefore BAME communities and organisations deserve ring fenced funding to address this issue. As lockdown has continued, there has been a shift in awareness regarding the risk of domestic violence. Supermarkets, one of the only few places that remained open during lockdown, have run initiatives including Tesco included the national hotline on their receipts and Morrison’s opened safe places in their pharmacies where those concerned can get advice from trained consultants.

Image: AP Photo/Jenny Kane

Although we’re nearing the end of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, this wave of domestic violence the effects on the survivors will be long-lasting. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that support services are available to them. The Circle has supported Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis with its new text helpline, in order to reach vulnerable women and girls who may not be able to speak on the phone. We have also made grants to Irise Uganda, to support them with their emergency relief and domestic violence prevention work.

Some general and specific advice for people living in the UK

Hotlines

  • England: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can visit their website for more information.
  • England: The Respect phone line 0808 8024040 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. You can visit their website for more information.
  • Scotland: The Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 0271234 24, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit their website here.
  • Northern Ireland: The 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is 0808 8021414, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information here.
  • Wales: The Live Fear Free Helpline is 08088010800, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have a website.
  • If you are a man experiencing domestic abuse call 0808 8010327 or visit their advice line.

Police

  • You can make silent 999 calls to the police by waiting for the call handler to pick up making some kind of a cough or any sound at all and pressing 5,5.

Bright Sky

  • The app can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.

Here are some precautions you can take to look out for each other:

  • If you are a postal worker, delivery driver, food delivery company or a carer who still visits houses, keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to the police.
  • Neighbours should pay extra attention in hearing shouts, cries, or any noise that could be associated with violence. In case you suspect something bad is happening in a neighbouring house/flat please call the police.

Click here to donate to The Circle’s Women and Girls Solidarity Fund!

This article was written by Csenge. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.


Now is the Time: Impactful Change in the Fashion Industry

Image: Better Work, ILO/IFC

Non-essential retail shops in England re-opened today and garment retailers including Primark, TK Maxx and Nike were met with long queues of eager shoppers. Although for many this will signal the beginning of the end in terms of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, for the workers who produce our clothing, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will be long lasting.

We have seen many brands and retailers abandon their suppliers in time of need, as clothing orders dwindled and factories in large garment producing countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, were forced to close. Although some brands have made commitments to pay workers for orders already fulfilled, many have shown a complete disregard for the rights and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in their supply chain and some point blank refused to pay, including Kohl’s who used force majeure clauses in contracts to avoid paying for clothing already made and ready to ship. We cannot forget their actions and fall back into our old consumer driven behaviours. Now is the time for change.

Now more than ever, we are examining the inequalities that persist throughout our society and nowhere is that more apparent than in the garment industry. Of the some 74 million textile workers worldwide an estimated 80% are women, many of whom are women of colour, single and migrants. In Pakistan, it has been predicted that 1 million workers will lose their jobs as a result of the crisis and in Bangladesh some 2.27 million workers have been affected by cancelled orders. Many of these workers are young women who are often the family’s primary breadwinner. For them, and for all those employed in the fast fashion industry, the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic must not be forgotten.

Now more than ever is the time to introduce legal mechanisms that will protect these workers from weak contractual agreements that have been exposed over the last few months, poverty wages that do not allow them to save for periods of uncertainty, and unsafe working conditions that put their lives at risk.

The Circle has provided grants to partners in Bangladesh to provide immediate emergency relief to garment workers and their families who have been left destitute, but core to our work is the goal of building robust legal frameworks to ensure that these women can work with the dignity and rights that they are entitled to. With The Lawyers Circle, we are advocating for the fundamental right of a living wage to be introduced for garment workers by bringing about legislation that will ensure that a living wage is paid by fashion brands to the millions of women and men in their global supply chains. This legislation is vital to prevent further poverty as global economies move into recession.

What can you do?


New Report an Important Addition to the Due Diligence Debate

Image: Stefan Lechner

Today sees the release of the report, “Making Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks Work for Small Farmers and Workers” – commissioned by the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) with Brot für die Welt, and written by the University of Greenwich’s Natural Resources Institute, based in part on research shared by The Circle.

The report explores how human rights due diligence (HRDD), can have a positive impact on small farmers and workers in the agriculture and textile sector and on how fair purchasing practices, living wages and living incomes can be addressed by HRDD frameworks and instruments. It concludes with recommendations for future legislative frameworks.

Human rights due diligence is defined by the UN Guiding Principles as, “An ongoing risk management process… in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how [a company] addresses its adverse human rights impacts.” This is currently, predominantly, a voluntary process that businesses undertake and as such there is little legal recourse for abuses found in global supply chains. This has led some critics to view current processes as little more than a bureaucratic tick-boxing exercise.

However, this trend seems to be changing, with some countries introducing laws that include legal sanctions (such as France’s Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law) and a commitment by Justice Didier Reynders at the EU Commission to introduce mandatory – cross-sectorial – due diligence laws for businesses in 2021.

This report is an important contribution to future debates on HRDD – the issue of implementation and on the ground impact on the lives of workers needs to be built in to any new legislation from the very beginning in order to make it effective.

In particular we welcome the report’s emphasis on the explicit inclusion of living wages and living incomes within due diligence frameworks as, “…fundamental to respecting internationally recognised human rights – either as rights themselves or as preconditions for other priority rights…”

As noted in the report, “… existing laws and regulations are not sufficient to ensure living wages, living incomes or fair trading practices in international supply chains… HRDD frameworks do not, at present, guarantee that insufficient wages or incomes will be covered and adequately addressed by such frameworks. […] HRDD frameworks need to make explicit reference to trading practices and systemic issues… in particular… living wages and living incomes throughout the supply chain.” (p.33)

International wage setting is often avoided in policy discussions, as it is seen as too complex an area to legislate. However, we strongly agree with the report that living wages are a right in themselves and a precondition for other priority rights – and therefore must be explicitly included in any future mandatory due diligence legislation.

Read the FTAO full report here: Making Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks Work for Small Farmers and Workers

 


Force Majeure and Covid-19: A Guide for Suppliers in the Garment Industry

Image: Getty Images

Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, many Western retailers have cancelled orders, demanded discounts and in some cases refused to pay for orders already completed. These cancellations have had a devastating effect on garment workers in global supply chains – effectively abandoning some of the world’s most vulnerable workers.

Brands have justified their actions by claiming that Covid-19 constitutes an event of force majeure. But what is force majeure? Does it apply in this case? And what legal rights does a supplier have if a brand cancels or refuses to pay on this basis?

Working in partnership with Traidcraft Exchange, The Circle is proud to publish a briefing for suppliers on force majeure.

The briefing provides background to the meaning and application of force majeure and highlights steps suppliers can take in their negotiations with brands and retailers when force majeure is used to renege on a contract or purchasing order.

Read the full briefing here: Force Majeure and Covid-19: A Guide for Suppliers in the Garment Industry

 
Early indications (from April) estimated a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide had been cancelled, although this figure may now be lower as some brands have backtracked due to public pressure. Industry insiders estimate 60 million garment workers will struggle to weather the crisis as many go without pay and face being fired.

“As far as buyers are concerned, there has never been any real room for negotiations,” according to one major garment supplier in India. And yet, as noted by the briefing:

“…a brand cannot rely on force majeure to get out of a contract that is merely difficult or less profitable. Force majeure is not a cure for a contract that is no longer practical or economically viable for a brand or retailer.”

 
Brands must take responsibility – to stand by their contracts, their suppliers, and the global multitude of workers who have helped generate their profits over these last decades.

 

Image: Fabeha Monir for The New York Times


Women and Girls Solidarity Fund: Impact So Far

 

We want to say a huge thank you to all of our supporters, members, allies and friends who have donated to our emergency appeal that we launched to respond to the additional challenges that the women and girls in our projects are facing during this crisis. Thanks to your efforts, we have been able to directly support marginalised women and girls across the globe. We have already made emergency grants to projects support projects in Uganda and Scotland.  

Emergency Supplies in Uganda

We have provided funds to Irise International so that they can provide provision and protection to vulnerable women and child-led households in Uganda. Women, unable to leave their houses for fear of police brutality, are struggling to feed their children or access reproductive healthcare and contraception. Irise is working with local government to deliver essential supplies to vulnerable women including food, hand sanitiser, menstrual pads and educational materials.  

After ten days of distribution, Irise have been able to reach a total of 398 vulnerable people in 93 households with 136 emergency relief packs.  

This is Jess. She is 18 years old and is the sole carer for these children aged 3 and 5. She’s been working as a hairdresser, but like so many others, has been unable to work during lockdown and faces terrifying uncertainty. Irise have been able to deliver essential supplies to her and will ensure that she is able to cope over the coming weeks.  

Irise are also using funds to ensure safeguarding within the community. They are working with the local government’s probation service to report and follow-up with vulnerable girls and young people. Cases include identifying three sisters aged 19-13 years old, who have been forced into prostitution to survive. Irise was able to provide them with vital supplies and will continue to work with the Gender Officer and District Office to safeguard these girls.  

Survivor Services in Scotland

Across the UK, three million women experience some form of gender-based violence every year, but these numbers have risen dramatically as social isolation policies have left women and girls vulnerable to abuse. Estimates suggest that there will be 15 million additional cases of domestic violence every 3 months of lockdown globally. Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis provides free and confidential support to girls and women who have experienced rape, sexual assault and sexual violence. Due to the UK’s lockdown, the centre are unable to offer their drop-in service that is a lifeline for survivors. We have provided the centre with funds to increase website capacity and launch a dedicated text support service for survivors to access counselling and support. This service will allow the centre to respond to the needs of sexual violence who are not in a position to phone the counsellors. This service will provide vital support for at least 1,500 women and girls.  

 

 

Supporting Garment Workers

With the money that our supporters have raised, we will be able to provide food and medical supplies to 500 garment workers in Bangladesh who have been left destitute. Supporting garment workers is crucial at this time. As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, major garment companies responded by pushing risk and costs down the supply chain. Garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan have been left without work with factories being forced to close due to dwindling orders. Many of these workers are migrant women. With historically low wages, making it impossible to accumulate savings, these workers are now struggling to pay for housing or essential supplies. We are working with partners to provide emergency relief packages containing food, protective masks and soap.  

The need is only going to increase as some of the world’s poorest countries begin to feel the full force of Covid-19. We have long been there for the world’s most vulnerable women and we will continue to do so at this time of great emergency.  

If you can, support our emergency appeal by donating and sharing and allow us to reach even more women and girls.  


The Impact of COVID-19 on Garment Workers

 

The Circle’s Living Wage Team consider the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers and the fashion industry and discuss why, more than ever, a living wage needs to be recognised as a fundamental human right.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of demand drying up and brands cancelling manufacturing orders.

The pandemic highlights the weak contractual agreements suppliers have with brands and retailers and lays bare the limitations of the current approach to protecting worker’s rights. For years companies have preferred voluntary codes of conduct, arguing that they can self-regulate their behaviour. Recent events show these have failed – and that we need legal mechanisms to strengthen the responsibilities companies have, to uphold the rights of workers in their supply chain. This issue has never been so important. Understanding exactly what those responsibilities entail is key as we go forward into debates about the recovery of garment manufacturing and how to structure a fair and sustainable supply chain. The Circle’s Living Wage Project can play an important role in creating a space for this, providing legal expertise, facilitating discussion and collaborating with key stakeholders to bring legal solutions that will work.

How is COVID-19 impacting garment workers?

The full economic and social impact of COVID-19 on workers in the garment supply chain is as yet unknown, but the effect is global. Economies are slowing, many tipping into recession. Shops have closed, demand for fashion has dried up and companies are facing huge losses in revenue. In an effort to bolster much needed liquidity to keep them afloat, many brands and retailers are aggressively cutting costs overseas, in effect shifting the risk onto their suppliers. As a result, many companies are refusing to honour their contracts with suppliers, either through non-payment of orders already complete or in process, refusal to pay for materials already purchased by factories, cancellation of future orders or forcing the extension of payment deadlines.

The Workers Rights Consortium estimate there are a total of 50 million workers in production factories worldwide. Early indications estimate a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled, and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost. This in turn is devastating for textile workers who are losing their livelihoods and sometimes their homes as a result. In Pakistan 1 million workers are set to lose their jobs while reports from Bangladesh indicate some 2.27 million workers are affected by cancelled orders. Many of these workers are young women, often their family’s primary wage earner and the impact on them will be devastating.

There is also the issue of the impact of the pandemic on the workers themselves, who risk exposure and lack essential protection such as face masks. Workers therefore have limited ability to protect themselves and limited access to services such as childcare facilities, medical insurance or hazard pay.

While we recognise that many people are also losing their jobs in the West, here there are regulations around corporate behaviour and employment standards that garment workers in the Global South are not protected by. Additionally, many garment workers live in countries with no social protection mechanisms and having received poverty wages for years have no savings to offer any form of buffer in even the short term, let alone if the crisis continues for months – as is predicted. The nature of global supply chains is such that companies in Western markets have profited for years from cheap labour in production countries and now are able to withdraw without any responsibility towards the millions of workers who have helped generate their huge profits.

What should we expect fashion brands to do?

In the first instance brands and retailers must honour their contracts and ensure that the workers who have made their products are paid, that is the minimum. Secondly, brands need to work with their suppliers and as far as is possible support them to keep their workers employed. For many workers if they lose their employment status, they not only lose their income but also risk falling off the radar completely should any state support to factories become available.

In the coming months, questions around how to establish social protection floors which will support workers will need to be addressed, and brands and retailers must be part of that conversation.

How do I know what brands are doing?

It is difficult to know the details of what individual brands are doing but the Workers Rights Consortium (an independent labour rights monitoring organisation) are tracking brands and their commitment to pay in full for orders completed or in production in countries such as Bangladesh. See here.

Another reliable source of information is Clean Clothes Campaign’s live blog, which is updated daily with news reports, categorised by country, detailing the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers around the world.

Why is this important to the Living Wage Project?

The aim of the Living Wage Project is to bring about legislation in the form of a new EU legal framework, to ensure the payment of a living wage by fashion brands to millions of women and men in global garment supply chains. A living wage is a wage that goes beyond a minimum wage and provides the worker with the means to not just survive but also to put some money aside for education and savings. This means they can provide for their family with a buffer against the worst conditions of poverty. Such legislation is more important than ever going forward. Although we don’t know what supply chains will look like after the pandemic is under control, there is no reason to believe globalisation will markedly change  and there is the real possibility that conditions could further worsen for workers in global supply chains as economies move into recession.

Does this change the work of the Living Wage Project?

Yes and No. What the pandemic has shown us more than ever is that voluntarism does not work. The ‘trust’ we have that companies will do the right thing by their workers is misplaced – it’s not enough. Depending upon CSR (corporate social responsibility) to address employment conditions is always going to be piecemeal, and dependent upon the good will and resources of an individual company. To that extent our work going forward on the living wage is critical, strengthening human rights legislation through ensuring workers get paid a living wage.

What can I do to support garment workers?

We must continue to put pressure on fashion brands and retailers to do the right thing by their suppliers and support workers where we can. As individuals it can seem overwhelming and we wonder what role we can play, but brands do listen to customers. Below are some suggestions for action:

Write to the brands

Write to brands that you buy from asking them what they are doing to ensure that garment workers are being paid during this period. Are they honouring their payment for orders already placed? Can they vouch that the payments made are reaching the workers?

For guidance on what to write, you can find a useful template at Fashion Revolution. If you would rather sign a petition, then have Traidcraft Exchange have a letter you can sign your name to.

Donate to The Circle

A donation to The Circle’s Living Wage project will mean we can continue in our work to ensure that workers are paid a living wage. By donating to this project and you are helping to create a “race to the top” to protect the right of millions of workers to receive a living wage. Every contribution will make a difference.

Updates

As a result of ongoing campaigns, it has been officially reported that:

  • Awaj estimates 71% of garment workers were paid in April.
  • Garment Diaries estimates 86% of garment workers were paid.
  • BGMEA reports 2,200 factories have paid workers
  • Wage data details are here. 
  • According to a Brand Tracker, regularly updated by the Worker Rights Consortium, over a dozen large companies, including Uddin’s buyers, as well as Primark, Bestseller, Walmart (Asda), Under Armour, Kohl’s, Ross Dress for Less, Urban Outfitters, and Gap Inc. (Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic), among others, have canceled orders or renegotiated payment terms to demand discounts and payment delays.

The Circle Joins Civil Society Coalition Calling on the EU to Re-Design the Textile Industry’s Broken Business Model

 

Today brings the launch of the Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear, a shadow strategy developed by a diverse coalition of 65 social and environmental NGOs.

The Circle is pleased to be a signatory to this document, joining with others to call on the EU to promote and support development of a Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear (TGLF) industry that respects human rights, creates decent jobs and adheres to high environmental and responsible governance standards throughout its value chain, in the EU and beyond.

“This strategy is more relevant now than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts global supply chains and increases the vulnerability of garment workers in some of the world’s poorest countries,” says Dr Sharon McClenaghan of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. “Stronger regulation is needed to address the negative impact this industry has on the environment and to protect workers around the world from the harmful employment practices of brands and retailers.”


Press Release: Coronavirus strengthens case for new EU textile laws – 65 civil society groups publish joint vision

Executive summary: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear

Full text of the strategy: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear


The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as never before as shops close and demand for fashion dries up.

Early indications estimate a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled,1 and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost.2 This in turn is devastating for textile workers who are losing their livelihoods and sometimes their homes as a result. In Pakistan 1 million workers are set to lose their jobs3 while reports from Bangladesh indicate some 2.27 million workers are affected by cancelled orders.4 The Workers Rights Consortium estimate there are a total of 50 million workers in production factories worldwide.5 Many of these workers are young women, often their family’s primary wage earner.

“The current crisis is unprecedented,” added Sharon. “At the moment no one knows quite what the industry will look like when the pandemic ends. Our concern is that when supply chains open up again these workers will be more vulnerable to exploitation than before. We desperately need regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that does not happen.”


A Year of Global Feminism

Image: Annie Lennox and Eve Ensler at The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

We kicked off the year at our Annual Gathering encouraging everyone to be courageous and confident in their actions to empower women and ‘Just do it’.  The day was full of inspiration and especially from Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, and Eve Ensler who talked about their activism and passion for women’s rights and left us all energised by their drive and commitment to ensure the world is an equal and just one for women. Since then our wonderful members, volunteers, allies and supporters have truly taken the words to heart and the past year has been incredibly successful and impactful for The Circle. We’d love to share with you some of the highlights of our year!

Global Feminism Campaign

 Last International Women’s Day, in partnership with Annie Lennox and Apple Music, we released a short film in support of our Global Feminism campaign. Both the short film and the campaign highlight the injustices still experienced by millions of women and girls the world over from misogyny, rape and violence to pay disparity. Every women and girl, no matter where they live, no matter the colour of their skin, no matter what religious faith, no matter what – must have access to the same basic human rights. Global Feminists believe in equality of rights, with empowerment and justice made available to every woman and girl in every corner of the world.

Annie drew support from some of the biggest names in music, film and beyond to help us, including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Richard E Grant, Emeli Sande, Hozier, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chada, Eddie Izzard, Gwendoline Christie, Beverley Knight and Mary J Blige. The film was shared far and wide and gave us the chance to remind the world of the huge inequalities and injustices that remain for millions of women and girls across the world. On the need for this campaign, Annie Lennox has said that:

‘We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of human rights, justice and equality for women and girls everywhere in the world, especially in countries where they are not even the lowest rung of the ladder.”

Image: Dua Lipa/Global Feminism Film

An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox

In September we and 3,000 fans of Annie travelled to Scotland for An Evening of Music and Conversation with Annie Lennox in the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow. Following an incredible similar evening held in 2018 at Sadler’s Wells, Annie once again took to the stage to share thoughts, memories, and reflections in addition to treating the audience to a phenomenal musical performance. It was wonderful to see so many members and supporters there, many of which had travelled from far and wide to join us for this magical evening.  We were very honoured and thrilled that Annie was willing, once again, to deliver this wonderful event and raise valuable funds and awareness for The Circle and our work.  Using her platform on the stage to address the audience on some of the issues faced by women globally and to highlight the need for us all to be Global Feminists. A huge thank you to all who were involved, including the onstage and backstage teams, The Hunter Foundation, The Scottish Circle, our wonderful volunteers and all those that bought tickets.  It was our largest net fundraiser to date and all the proceeds go directly to empowering marginalised women and girls across the globe.

A Living Wage

It was a year of significant achievements for our Living Wage work.  We published our latest report, Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework for a Living Wage, which sets out a proposal for a new legislative framework for ensuring a living wage for garment workers.  The report was launched in November at the Living Wage Symposium we held at the offices of Pinsent Masons in London.  There we were joined by incredible change-makers from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset Management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT, Fair Wear, Livia Firth and Clean Clothes Campaign among others. The need for a significant change in the area of a Living wage, after decades of small-scale pilots and gradual changes along with more transparency were the key themes throughout the day and came up again and again across all of the panels and discussions. Moving forward, we were reminded by our Ambassador Melanie Hall that:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer.”

This was significant step in the project in gaining significant buy-in to the need for legislative change and input and contribution about the type of legal framework needed to ensure manufacturing brands, retailers, and importers introduce a living wage within their supply chains.  Our Living Wage team have continued working to develop this work further and deliver our outline for a legislative framework to policy-makers and experts within the EU and beyond. We are excited for what the year ahead holds for our Living wage work and will press ahead to find a legislative solution to improve the lives of garment workers who struggle daily to provide for themselves and their families.

Image: Female garment worker

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network (MCJN) has continued in its incredible work supporting its 170 network members who are female journalists working in conflict and fragile states across the Middle East and North Africa region. The network has given them access to training, emergency assistance, and legal aid.

Many of the MCJN’s members and mentors have been instrumental in covering historic events in countries from Iraq to Yemen, to Egypt and Morocco. Unlike foreign reporters who are sent in to report on a story and then taken out to either go elsewhere or because it’s too difficult to stay many of the MCJN members remain, in the communities they live in, with war and violence around them and dealing with the aftermath. So, we have provided counselling for members and are part of a wider community of organisations supporting journalists to deal with the issues of mental health. Dima, the MCJN Editor, and one of our counsellors spoke about the issue and action we are taking to deal with it at the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Forum in Jordan last Autumn.

This has been a huge year for the Network and they have grown from strength to strength. Dima had this to say on their growth and success:

“We started with a concept four years ago that has now grown into a vibrant online community of more than 170 Arab, female journalists. Not only are we proud of this achievement, but also humble and grateful to have had the chance to support amazing and resilient women who battle against the odds every day to speak truth to power.”

The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Another one of our project highlights was to continue our strong relationship with the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre. The centre is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside of Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Centre was established to make up for the lack of effective intervention services and has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. We have been supporting Nonceba for the past few years and have been inspired by their resilience and determination to empower their community and to ensure that the centre can provide a place of safety for women and their children. Most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training. Thanks to our phenomenal members, The Circle have been able to continue to fund the shelter so that women can stay as long as they need rather than for the few weeks that the Nonceba Centre receive government funding for.

Image: Siyanda at the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

More broadly our impact has been felt through a number of projects aiming to address Global Goal 5: Gender Equality including, but not limited to, expanding Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis’ service capacity for young survivors of gender-based violence, improving quality education for girls with Educate Girls in remote areas of India by providing 301 learning kits that will impact over 7,000 children, providing funding for the cost of 425 casework hours that enable ACT Alberta to carry out their Victim Support Services for survivors of trafficking which include trauma recovery, advocating for victims and improved access to the justice system, and training educators and entrepreneurs in Uganda to provide affordable sanitary products and educate girls and boys about menstrual health with Irise International.

Events

Of course, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful members, supporters, allies, and volunteers who have been fundraising and using their expertise and platforms to empower marginalised women and girls.

Great River Race

 Some members of The London Circle truly took ‘just do it’ to heart and at the Annual Gathering put a shout out for others to join together and form a team to enter the Great River Race in London last September. 17 women came together for this huge challenge to paddle a dragon boat 21 miles down the River Thames and to raise valuable funds for the women’s shelter at the Nonceba Centre. Although a few of them were experienced rowers, none of them had ever paddled in a dragon boat before and regardless of ability, they all trained hard and work together to achieve their goals. They had a wonderful race and raised over £20,000. Everyone at The Circle found it incredibly motivating and inspiration to watch the team throughout their training and fundraising. It costs just £125 to allow a woman and her child to stay at the Nonceba centre for one month, so the money they raised will be able to make a huge impact to the lives of women at the centre and we couldn’t be prouder!

Image: Friends and Members of The London Circle for The Great River Race

Jumble Fever

After the huge success of The Oxford Circle’s Jumble Fever in 2019, the team held an event even bigger and more ambitious this year. Having outgrown its original location, this year’s event was held in Oxford Town Hall and raised over £11,000 for the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. Special guests included commentator, activist and TV presenter Caryn Franklin MBE and performances from Oxford bands The Mother Folks and The Kirals, DJs, and MC for the day Her Who. The volunteer team were incredibly busy in the months before the event and on the day to ensure the day was a success and all the people who came could find a great bargain in mountains of donated items. There were numerous stalls selling everything from women’s clothes, children’s items, books and bric a brac and there were celebrity donations including those from Colin Firth and Annie Lennox.

Chai Day

We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters who held a Chai Day this year. Chai Day is a fundraising initiative beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to bring people together over a cup of Chai and raise funds for survivors of violence. This year, we will use the funds raised to support the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre, ACT Alberta, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. Our amazing supporters held Chai Days in schools, universities, churches, community halls and offices and we really appreciate their support.

Image: Chai Day

This year The Healthcare Circle was launched at their first event welcoming speakers from various specialism and expertise from the healthcare sector. FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly ad Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein joined the for the panel discussion Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How best we can support women and girls?

Other highlights included being joined by Lorna Tucker and Charon Asetoyer for our screening of Amá to shed light on the important story of abuses committed towards Native American in the 1960s and also at our launch of Chai Day 2019, at which we were also incredible privileged to have our friends from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis in attendance.

The Music Circle also took on the ambitious challenge of organising a series of fundraising events in collaboration with record label Trash Like You. Tallulah, a new member of The Music Circle, brought together fellow members and fantastic womxn artists for some incredible performances to support The Circle’s project with Irise International.

Image: Members and guests at the launch of The Healthcare Circle

Thank you!

We want to say a huge thank you to all of you for your continual support over the last year to help us change the odds stacked the most disempowered women.


The Impact of COVID-19 on The Circle’s Projects

Image: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Marginalised people can become even more vulnerable in global health emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic due to a number of factors including limited access to health services. Previous epidemics have illustrated that primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women and that women and girls experience increased risks of gender-based violence including sexual exploitation.

“We know that when emergencies hit, women and girls come last” 

There are a number of factors that put women and girls at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, including:

  • Women make up large parts of the health workforce;
  • Primary caregivers to the ill are predominately women. This caregiving burden is likely to cause their physical and mental health to suffer and impede their access to education, livelihood sources, and other critical support;
  • Women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector and be hardest hit economically by COVID-19;
  • Women experience increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation;
  • Cultural factors may exclude women from decision-making spaces and restrict their access to information on outbreaks and availability of services;
  • Women might experience interrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to family planning;
  • In some cultural contexts, gender roles may dictate women cannot obtain health services independently or from male service providers.

Social isolation policies can also put a disproportionate pressure on women and girls due to:

  • Additional childcare responsibilities, that more commonly fall on women;
  • Women and girls who are in abusive relationships may be unable to leave a dangerous environment;
  • Services supported survivors of violence are unable to offer shelter or in person counselling sessions.

We are fully aware that there will be some disruptions to what we and our project partners want to accomplish over the coming months. However, both they and us are taking measures to ensure that our teams and the beneficiaries are supported in their work and that the risks are minimised as much as possible. It goes without saying how proud and inspired we are by the unending commitment, flexibility and drive that is being shown by everyone to ensure our impactful projects continue as best they can. Saying that, we want to keep you as informed as possible about this issue and what the impact may be on marginalised women and girls around the globe.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Public health, the economy, and women and girls’ safety and bodily autonomy are inextricably linked.

Social Development Direct, following a request from the UK Department for International Development, reviewed the evidence of how COVID-19 might impact on violence against women and girls and lessons learnt from recent epidemics.

Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to increase the risks of:

  • Domestic violence, with police reports in China showing that domestic violence tripled during the epidemic.
  • Violence against healthcare workers, due to the serious stress that the pandemic places on patient, their relatives and other healthcare workers. Racial and sexual harassment (both online and offline), with anecdotal reports targeted sexualised attacks against women of East Asian appearance.
  • Abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women workers, including street-based sex workers and migrant domestic workers.
  • Sexual exploitation and violence by state officials and armed guards.

Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

South Africa has gone into lockdown in an attempt to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions” said the president. This is a difficult time for everyone, but services such as the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre are facing additional challenges. The Centre support a community where there is high-population density, a high level of overcrowding and poverty that makes it extremely difficult to self-isolate. Women and girls in Khayelitsha are already vulnerable to intimate partner violence, but the fear, tension and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak will only intensify the risks they face.

In addition to this, most of the women in the shelter are HIV positive and rely on the Nonceba Centre for access to healthcare.  With the additional pressure on healthcare services globally, the Centre is working to ensure the safety of all of the women and children using its services.

Image: Siyanda at The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis

For women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence, home is not always a place of safety. Perpetrators will use infection control measures as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour. According to the Joint Statement on COVID-19 from VAWG services across the UK:

“Access to support for women and children may also shrink further due to social isolation and those in poverty will be severely impacted.”

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis are working to adapt and prepare for the potentially increased pressure on their services and also the restrictions on the services that they are able to offer. As a result of the crisis, they are currently unable to offer face-to-face support in any capacity and will therefore be running increased hours on their helpline. They can now be reached Monday to Friday, 11am to 4pm.

A Living Wage

Public health emergencies can have a tremendous, sustained impact on livelihoods. This can be particularly true for women, who are more likely to be engaged in informal or low-wage activities or migrant work. The global pandemic has caused chaos and suffering for millions of garment workers across the Global South. Many factories in garment-producing countries have closed due to a shortage of raw materials from China and cancelled orders from clothing brands across the world.

“I have talked to some workers and they were saying ‘more than the virus we might die of hunger’ because they don’t have access to food”

The Clean Clothes Campaign is asking brands to ensure that workers who contract the virus are allowed to take sick leave without repercussions and continue to receive wages throughout self-isolation. There have also been reports of garment workers being forced to work in cramped conditions, without protective wear, despite governments introducing social distancing policies across the globe.

Although our Living Wage Project will be able to continue remotely throughout this crisis, the women and girls that it is working to empower will be severely impacted by the short-term decisions being made by brands and retailers, not only for their own personal safety, but for their livelihoods in the long-term.

Image: A Female Garment Worker/Labour Behind the Label

 The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network

For the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, their preparations to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on both their members and their activities are still speculative at this stage. In the MENA region, there are comparatively few confirmed cases right now, but states have taken early-stage measures to prevent the spread of the virus including social distancing and curfews. However, the Network has over 130 local members in more than 15 countries across the region, so the impact will vary greatly.

The pandemic could result in a number of challenges for the local, female journalists in the Network including limited job opportunities and a greater demand for mental health support during this difficult time, which will be even more difficult to provide remotely.

However, the Network is working hard with donors and partner organisations to ensure that they can respond flexibly to the needs of their members as best as they can and to strengthen the capacity of their remote activities.

To support the Network and the journalists who are at the frontline, reporting stories of global importance from some of the most dangerous places in the world, head to their website.

Educate Girls

It is clear that COVID-19 is continuing to spread throughout India, and at a rapidly accelerating rate. In addition, Maharashtra state is emerging as the epicentre for the pandemic in India.

Educate Girls reached out to us to inform us of the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of both their staff and the communities that they serve. They confirmed that the implications of this lockdown will be severe on the communities they work in, particularly on girls. This is because most of the communities are severely marginalised and zero mobility and loss of income streams will put immense pressure on families.

Not only have they created an internal task force and provided a helpline number to assister their field team members, but they have committed to additional financial support for employees and are working with contacts at the District level Government officials, village-based influencers and parents of out of school children to ensure there is no drop in their communication. Finally, they will continue to deliver trainings whilst all teams are working from home and hope that this will enable them to emerge improved and ready to deliver better.

Irise International

Evidence suggests that during past public health emergencies, resources have been diverted from routine health care services toward containing and responding to the outbreak. These reallocations constrain already limited access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, such as clean and safe deliveries, contraceptives, and pre- and post-natal health care. As a charity that exists to support vulnerable young people and their communities, our project partners Irise are enormously concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having and will continue to have on their community in East Africa. 

“We know that our work is likely to be disrupted, and as one of our funders and partners, I wanted to assure you that we are putting in place a series of mitigation and adaptation plans as we learn more about the impact and scale of this pandemic.

We are worried about our staff. The majority of our team are women and face a disproportionate burden as primary caregivers to their children and wider families.

We are worried about the communities they serve who are struggling to access accurate health information and adequate healthcare.”

The organisation is running an emergency appeal to protect their staff and communities from COVID-19 and its impact. This special fund will be set aside to keep their staff and their families safe and enable them to access healthcare and other support over the coming week. This fund will ensure that every Irise member of staff’s income is secure and that they will get help to access healthcare if they need it, so that they can focus their energy on supporting families and communities during this difficult time.

For more information about our projects, click here.