SEATTLE, Washington — The current restrictions in place to protect millions from COVID-19 have inversely affected businesses worldwide. In Asia, this has led to even greater impacts, causing high-risk frontline workers to become sick and leaving millions unemployed. This has shown to be particularly true for supply chain workers in the apparel, footwear and fashion accessories (AFFA) industry. This sector of business has been the most affected by the restrictions on production and shipping in Asia. To help alleviate the burden of such restrictions, U.S. apparel and footwear companies are working to improve jobs in Asia by partnering with USAID. The partnership aims to provide $250 million to expand businesses in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Current Situation for Apparel Workers
In 2018, Asian countries accounted for 64.7% of global exports. As a result of the pandemic, trade surrounding the apparel market has significantly dropped. The decline in trade has caused the closure of many apparel factories due to the lack of demand from countries that rely on Asia’s factories. With the closures of these factories, there has been a major increase in unemployment.
Some of the effects include:
There was a 70% decrease in exports to countries that rely on Asia’s apparel production.
Countries such as China, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are experiencing the greatest decline globally in exports surrounding apparel.
Retail sales have seen a major decline from approximately half of apparel supply chain jobs in the region.
At least one in two apparel workers in the primary countries with apparel factories have lost their jobs due to widespread closures.
There has been a decline in wages and a delay in payments for those who still have jobs.
U.S. Companies’ Plan to Improve Jobs
There is a plan underway in which several U.S. apparel and footwear companies are working to improve jobs in Asia. This plan specifically targets the apparel sector. Some of the companies involved include Nike, Gap, Target and the American Apparel and Footwear Association. The partnership of such companies with USAID is projected to provide $250 million towards expanding business in the Indo-Pacific area through improving the economy, trade and overall infrastructure. This in turn will help increase jobs and improve the livelihoods of workers.
Part of the money will go towards promoting responsible business practices to protect workers and encourage better trade and investment practices in Burma and other partnering countries. A sum of $5 million will also go toward a business initiative between Sri Lanka and a consulting firm known as Stax. The initiative includes investing in more mid-market companies to create more sustainable economic growth. I will also provide a network of ethical businesses throughout Sri Lanka.
The decline in jobs caused by the pandemic has made aiding businesses one of the main focuses in poverty alleviation. Through this project, USAID and U.S. businesses hope to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 on the job market, particularly for supply chain workers in the apparel sector.
– Zahlea Martin