Garment workers in Pakistan faced some of the highest wage theft in the Asian garment industry during the Covid-19 crisis due to the imposition of the provincial Covid-19 lockdowns that coincided with the cancellation of orders by many global brands.
This was revealed in a recent report titled ‘Money Heist: Covid-19 Wage Theft in Global Garment Supply Chains’ released by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA). The report has documented experiences of supply chain workers producing garments for major brands during the pandemic and claimed that an overwhelming majority of them suffered ‘wage theft’.
The AFWA is an international campaign and alliance for collective industrial bargaining in the global garment industry. Its report surveyed 2,185 garment workers across 189 factories in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
In Pakistan, the report conducted a survey of 605 workers from 50 garment factories, located across three districts – Faisalabad, Lahore, and Karachi.
Although the intensity of the crisis was felt most in April and May 2020, women workers, who are mostly employed in casual jobs, continued to bear the brunt of it even in early 2021 as most factories did not rehire women workers laid off in 2020, the report observed.
“Wage theft was the predominant feature of the Covid-19 crisis for garment workers in Pakistan, with our survey estimates indicating that 244,510 garment workers across 50 factories in Pakistan were denied 85.08 million USD as wages due to order cancellations, non-payment for existing orders, and other irresponsible practices by brands during the pandemic”, the report said. Wage theft peaked in April 2020 but workers consistently experienced wage theft throughout the year, and well into 2021, it said.
The AFWA lamented that garment workers sank into extreme poverty, crushing debt, hunger and poor health due to their wage theft. The report also found increased incidences of child labour and bonded labour.