Traditionally, the global hub of garment production, Asia continues to maintain its dominance across the world. However, off late, the region’s garment sector has been facing certain challenges induced by the pandemic, says a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The report states, the sector continues to account for 55 per cent of global textiles and clothing exports, and employ 60 million workers. However, it currently faces issues including rising labor, production and process automation costs; increase in ‘reshoring’ and ‘nearshoring’ trends, and an increased emphasis on adopting a sustainable business model with minimum standard wages and working conditions. These headwinds are making workers’ future uncertain in the industry.
Workers condition continue to lag
Workers’ wages and productivity have grown across countries, futures of many companies are being determined by the respective governments’ policies and other external forces, notes David Williams, Manager-Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains-Asia, ILO.
The sector’s development follows different routes across regions. While its importance in China, Thailand and the Philippines has reduced due to diversification and upgrading, the sector continues to drive economic growth in nations including Cambodia and Bangladesh. For years, the sector depended on cheap labor to secure advantages in the global market. However, despite an increase in real wages in most countries, labor conditions continue to worsen with long working hours, unhealthy and unsafe conditions and labor abuse rampant at workplaces, adds Williams.
A major percentage of workers continue to remain susceptible to the sector’s informal nature and its temporary working arrangements.
Gender pay gap still an issue
The sector also faces huge Gender pay gaps, rues Williams. Female workers are paid much less than their male counterparts with countries having lowest female workers facing the highest gaps, he adds . Williams says, Asia’s garment sector continues to lag despite a rise in labor productivity in recent decades. Few countries in the region have managed to scale in the value chain in apparel production though most continue to engage in low-skilled operations.
He highlights a positive association between growth in labor productivity and wages in the sector. Enhancing labor productivity may help elevate workers’ pay, he advises. To ensure future success, the industry should make mutually strengthening investments, says Williams. It should generate productivity-driven high wages supported by concrete incentives from brands.