COVID-19: Challenges and Impact on the Garment and Textile Industry

The ILO Siraye programme on Advancing Decent Work and Inclusive Industrialization in Ethiopia hosted the first of a planned series of webinar aimed at bringing together representatives from the garment and textile factories and brands to address challenges and concerns emerging since the outbreak of COVID-19.

News | 14 April 2020
Twenty-eight representatives from FDI and local factories as well as global brands across Ethiopia attended the webinar series that took place on April 10, 2020. The meeting also served as a platform to share best practices performed by factories to educate workers about Corona virus and put in place preventive measures whilst still in operation.

Measures being taken by factories

Beyond the work being done at the government and sectorial levels to increase the awareness level of workers, some factories have taken the initiative to also reduce the number of workers by half to ensure social distancing whist also providing additional buses for transportation services to and from work. Temperature measurement and mandatory hand wash of workers upon entry and leaving as well as distribution of PPE material are also being carried out by some factories.

Concerns were raised among factory owners about the nature of the garment operational structure. Maintaining social distancing in a factory setting is proving to be difficult for many factories as the operational structure of production lines require a certain level of proximity among each machinery line.
‘’we have reduced half of our workers to keep social distancing but still the big challenge is the nature of the work.” manager explains


Global fashion brands are closing down their stores leading to fewer and in some cases a complete halt in demand for production from brands at the factory level. This in turn have led to some factories to close down their sheds while others shift their market locally to produce much needed COVID-19 PPE material during this period.
Similarly, prior to the webinar meeting, the ILO Siraye programme conducted a digital survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 on factory operational activity. Preliminary findings highlights that;
• The average reported capacity utilization rate decreased by 30% in quarter 1 2020 relative to the same period in 2019
• 54% of the factories surveyed expect a decrease of their revenues by 20% in 2020
• Factories have already reduced the working hours for employees in response to production slowdowns, concerned about employee retention
• 58% of manufacturers are willing to re-purpose production towards Covid-19 response goods (face masks, towels, bed linen, and patient gowns). They will need support on sourcing of machinery, raw materials, foreign exchange and training workers, etc.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs issued a COVID-19 Workplace Response Protocol outlining and encouraging employers and workers to take preventive measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. The protocol also put forth various legal and administrative measures to the curb the economic consequence on the industry and the workers.
Negative effects have already surfaced, with significant uncertainty in the short-term. Factories are struggling to stay in business and maintain their employees. 
’How can we increase the confidence of our workers? They are scared to come in and government wants us to continue running factories’’ A factory manager emphasises

Way forward

Despite the efforts of Ministry of Health and IPDC on raising awareness for the workers at the industrial parks, majority of the managers emphasized that there is still work to be done in informing workers on the preventive measure to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The need to set up testing facility and quarantine protocol in the case of COVID-19 suspected case with in the industrial parks was also highlighted by some factories;
‘It is critical that random testing is done at factories. It will reduce the risk, motivate factories to continue operation. Otherwise we will be forced to close the factories. Workers have to feel safe and we employers have to feel safe.’’

Resources are also tight. PPE equipment, thermometer, alcohol and sanitizers are running low. Further information and training to the factory’s medical staff on how to deal with suspected cases was a much needed concern raised among factories.
At this point, factories are trying their best to reduce the number of employee layoff and continue operating by shifting their target market locally. However, concerns are high when it comes to the feasibility of maintaining operation in the current condition and hope for the global demand to go back to normal so that operation can continue as usual.

The ILO will continue to work closely with the government to provide needed support during this time. Regular webinar with partners and stakeholder and will continue to be facilitated by the ILO to ensure coordinated and demand driven intervention for the industry.