Early in the pandemic, cancelled orders from struggling Western fashion brands devastated Asian garment factories and their workers.
On Monday, manufacturers from the six nations that make most of the world’s clothes announced a united front to negotiate better terms with Western buyers.
The group brings together the world’s largest garment producers: China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Pakistan, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Collectively, they represent 60% of the world’s clothing exports and employ around 60 million workers.
“We are banding together to create standard conditions,” said Ken Loo, spokesman at a Cambodia-based garment association. “No one is under any obligations but we hope it will be a guideline for all buyers and suppliers.”
Miran Ali, spokesman for the STAR Network of Asian Suppliers, said on Wednesday, “We want to come together to tackle the common problems we face. This is not about setting a minimum price for orders. This is about ethical business practice,”
He said that the initiative will give Asian manufacturers a stronger voice in setting payment and delivery terms with Western high-street brands.
Early last year, Western fashion companies cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of orders as the pandemic shuttered stores worldwide, leading to garment workers’ wage losses of up to US$6 billion, according to the Netherlands-based pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign.
Orders picked up in the second half of the year, but Western brands demanded price cuts and delayed payments to suppliers desperate for any orders to survive.
STAR Network’s Ali told Reuters that the new alliance will help firms hold out against such pressure. “For instance, a buyer can’t just place an order in South Asia, leave us with the liability and then decide to place its orders in another region. That’s unethical.”
Campaigners are urging manufacturers to use the new initiative to improve workers’ conditions, not just boost their own profits.