Textiles, clothing, leather and footwear

Asia garment and textile industry seeks path to bright and sustainable future

Representatives from ten Asian countries discuss challenges facing industry in aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic and global trends shaping the sector.

News | 29 October 2021
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BANGKOK (ILO News) – Representatives from major garment producing nations across Asia have affirmed the need to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic while proactively managing key drivers of change impacting the industry.

A three-day virtual event organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) held 18-20 October 2021 gathered stakeholders from the region to discuss challenges and opportunities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and long-standing trends impacting the industry which may reshape production and decent work dynamics in in the years to come.

Taking part were some 80 representatives from governments, employers and workers organizations as well as other partners.

Wide-ranging discussions saw participants discuss the need to build back better following the pandemic. They also highlighted the importance of getting ahead of trends including climate change, automation and evolving consumer buying patterns to ensure a sustainable future for the industry and decent work for those employed in it.

“COVID-19 and evolving global trends present a uniquely trying set of circumstances for the garment industry. Dialogues such as these between government, employers and workers allow us to share best practices and consider practical steps to benefit those at every level of the industry,” said Ms Sovann Vannaroth, Secretary of State at Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, who attended the event.

Home to 70 per cent of global garment production, exporting countries in Asia and the Pacific have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the biggest burden falling on women workers in particular.

Knowledge, experiences and good practices were shared on how stakeholders have been managing the pandemic, and particularly how social dialogue between workers, employers and governments had played a valuable role.

“Strong dialogue mechanisms have been at the heart of some of the most successful pandemic responses. As we look to the recovery, evidence suggests that further investments in social dialogue will help boost both enterprise resilience and overall industry sustainability,” said David Williams, Project Manager for the ILO-Sweden Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains Asia project, a co-organizer of the event.

The event saw participants share insights into how all levels of the industry could benefit from shifts towards greater automation and digitalisation.

“Greater use of technology will certainly benefit production but does not necessarily spell doom for workers,” said Arianna Rossi, Senior Research and Policy Specialist at Better Work. ‘Technology can lead to a better skilled, higher paid workforce under worker-machine collaboration for example. However, harnessing new technology for decent work will depend on comprehensive planning, investments in education and skills upgrading, and government support in the form of innovation roadmaps and sustainable industrial policies.’

With fashion’s huge carbon footprint under increasing public scrutiny, the impacts of climate change were high on the agenda too. Participants discussed policy tools and collaborative opportunities to ensure the industry makes a just transition to environmental sustainability.

Discussions also highlighted the need for renewed commitments on gender equality in the industry. Participants heard that redressing inequities in pay, work and care burdens were critical in restoring and advancing opportunities in the sector, for women workers in particular. There was also strong consensus on the need to address gender-based violence and harassment in factory settings. Worker and employer representatives alike called on governments in the region to ratify ILO’s Convention N° 190 on workplace violence and harassment and ensure its full implementation.

In addition, attendees highlighted the need to rebalance relationships between buyers, manufacturers and workers in the supply chain.

“All levels of the industry would benefit from a rebalancing of rewards and risk between brands, employers and workers. Greater solidarity within the industry would also see it speak with a more influential voice, helping it push for the changes needed for a sustainable and prosperous future,” noted Casper Edmonds, Head of the Extractives, Energy and Manufacturing Unit in the ILO’s Sectoral Policies Department.

Towards a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable garment and textiles sector in Asia and the Pacific: Challenges and opportunities for decent and sustainable work arising from automation, digitalization and other drivers of change in the aftermath of COVID-19 was organised by the ILO’s Sectoral Policies Department (SECTOR) in collaboration with ILO-Sweden Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains Asia project and the Better Work programme. For more information and follow-up please visit the event page.