A garment factory in Cambodia.

In unity there is strength — or at least the global fashion industry hopes so.

On Wednesday, 66 organizations representing the global fashion, textile, footwear and travel goods industries issued a joint appeal to governments and financial institutions to move quickly to address the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus. The organizations include the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the British Fashion Council, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the European Apparel and Textile Confederation, the China National Textile and Apparel Council and organizations from countries ranging from Egypt to Switzerland, Vietnam to Canada.

The appeal came on the same day leading brands, retailers, unions and the International Organisation of  Employers (IOE) agreed to form an international working group to address the serious damage the coronavirus crisis has caused to the apparel industry worldwide. The working group will be convened by the International Labour Organization. Major brands and retailers endorsing the call to action include Ralph Lauren Corp., VF Corp., PVH Corp., H&M, Inditex, Adidas, Under Armour, Primark, Bestseller, C&A, Marks & Spencer, Next, Tchibo and  Zalando.

The global organizations, in their appeal to governments, pointed to the need for action given that stores worldwide have been closed for weeks due to measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. “This lost revenue has had knock-on effects through the global supply chain,” the groups said, calling on governments and financial institutions to pass stimulus measures to ensure market liquidity; provide temporary duty and tariff relief, and not impose any further trade restrictions or prevent the manufacturing and delivery of PPE, intermediate products or raw materials needed for those products.

“In that vein, supply chain partners need to do their part, too,” the organizations said in a statement. “Individual companies should take action that minimize disruptions, facilitate payment for work that has been undertaken and ensure workers continue to be treated with full respect while ensuring their health and safety.”

Along those lines was the agreement to form the international working group overseen by the ILO to help support apparel manufacturers worldwide.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected every aspect of the apparel value chain, from the closure of retail stores globally to the workers, families and communities throughout the supply chain,” said Emanuel Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH. “We recognize that tackling this is far bigger than just one business and requires a collaborative industry response — and PVH is committed to that.”
The initiative aims to work with governments and financial institutions “to mobilize sufficient funding to enable manufacturers to ensure business continuity including payment of wages, as well as income-support and job-retention schemes to address the impact of the crisis,”  the IOE, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and IndustriAll Global Union said in a joint statement.
Roberto Suárez Santos, IOE secretary-general, also said the economic impact of the pandemic “on this critical industry requires a global response.”
In a similar vein, Valter Sanches, IndustriAll general-secretary, said “concrete action is now needed to protect supply chains and the workers they depend on.”
Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, said the organization “is deeply concerned by the threat posed by COVID-19 to millions of jobs in the global garment industry. This is an unprecedented crisis that can only be solved through global solidarity. The priority must be to sustain businesses and protect workers.”
“We hope this will be a collective and collaborative platform where business across the globe will come forward and address the immediate crisis,” said Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Bangladesh, along with other major apparel producing countries, have urged leading retailers and brands to pay for the orders they placed before the pandemic swept the globe and which are already in production. Most leading fashion brands and retailers have agreed to do so, even as many have canceled orders beyond those they initially placed earlier this year. The most recent retailer to soften its stance was Primark, which said the week that it would commit another 370 million pounds to pay for orders it had placed that were already being manufactured and due for delivery this month.

Primark said its latest commitment follows “extensive one-to-one conversations with our suppliers, which began four weeks ago and helped us to identify mitigating options, including extended payment terms.”

The company said its product and sourcing teams “would continue to work closely with suppliers to implement these plans.” The company said that where suppliers need new sources of credit, Primark would seek to assist by, “for example, demonstrating our commitment to orders, initiating conversations with international lenders and liaising with governments.”