How is the situation over there, and how will it affect all the artisans making our bags? This is a question that might have come to the mind of our customers and one we are asking ourselves every day. We closely follow the developments and are in frequent contact with our partners.
India is under a nationwide lockdown since Monday, 23rd. Many workers, especially those working in the informal sectors, live from hand to mouth. A lockdown and potential income loss can turn into a life-threatening situation for them.
In the countries where most fashion manufacturing takes place, both the social security and the health care system are not as well equipped and prepared as it is the case in the Netherlands, for example. In a highly populated country as India, potential dimensions of a COVID-19 spread could be horrific.
What measures are taken by the government to support the Indian citizens in this extraordinary situation and what impact does it have on our producers?
India under Lockdown
The Indian government took several steps in the past week. Since Monday the 23rd of March, the whole country is under a full lockdown for the next 21 days in an attempt to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. This also means our partner factories stopped manufacturing completely.
On Thursday, 26th of March, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a support package equaling 20.6 billion Euros, to support the poor. This includes the distribution of a set amount of food per person for the next three months, direct cash transfers to especially vulnerable groups as well as the possibility of advanced payments from Employee Provident Fund accounts.
How our partner factories handle the situation
Luckily, our partner factories are currently still able to pay the normal salaries of their employees for the coming two months. After that it might get more challenging, but they are positive that they will be able to continue paying, by for example cutting down overhead costs. At the moment, they ensured us, no one is in danger to be dismissed. We are, as you can imagine, very relieved!
The situation turns out to be a bit trickier in relation to piece rate workers. Those workers get paid by piece (a practice that is very common in fashion). They are the most vulnerable at our partner factories at the moment. Since they are not manufacturing and delivering products, one could argue payment is not foreseen. From a legal perspective, it is easier to stop paying them, in contrast to the workers having a standard permanent working contract. Our partners, however, assured they are also looking out for the piece rate workers, finding solutions to help them through this difficult time, ranging from paying them in advance to even providing them with 70% of what they would normally earn in the coming weeks without any future deductions.
One big familiy
How great and caring the people are we are working with also shows in these uncertain, worrying times. Patrick, our Indian tanner, reacted immediately and used the half day the government gave businesses on Monday to prepare for the lockdown, to bring his approx. 20 employees 100 kg of rice and 100 kg of potatoes to ensure they have at least some food and do not have to worry too much about being hungry the next weeks.
Springfield factory, anticipating the lockdown, sent their workers home on Friday evening already. In this way, they made sure that everybody could make it home safely. Some of the workers come from more distant regions and have to travel quite a bit to get back to their families. With the lockdown announced on very short notice and the stop of public transportation soon after, it came to some chaotic scenes resulting in crowds stranded on train and bus stations. Good to know that Springfield’s employees did not have to experience this.
Concerned about the wellbeing and health of their employees, EMA already closed the factory several days before the official lockdown. They told everyone to stay at home and be very careful.
During the calls we had with the factories’ management teams, they all uttered their concerns for the poorest of the poor, who are not in the lucky position of having a regular job and social security. Prithiijit, founder of Mapletree, called to explain some of the measures included in the announced support package. He seemed relieved that the government takes these actions.
Fair Fashion makes a difference
We will stay in close touch with our Indian colleagues and hope the best for them. O My Bag has promised the factories not to cancel any orders to provide them with some security – the least we could do in our opinion. In case they need any help, we will try to help them where possible. We are one big family and in this together.
This crisis shows us how important it is to support fair fashion (and fair trade in general). Our partners look out for their employees, do everything they can to ensure their salaries and we are happy to know that they receive social security benefits. Not all fashion workers are that lucky. We all can contribute to step by step improve their situation.
Stay safe and healthy!