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New Threats, and Protections, in Store for Garment Workers as They Make PPE

Words by Leon Kaye
Garment Workers

Garment workers worldwide have a lot in common with meatpacking plant employees: Unfortunately, they work in close quarters, find it nearly impossible to follow social distancing guidelines, and face many on-the-job risks while making products consumers expect to be both affordable and of high quality. Reports keep surfacing of garment workers at factories that have shifted their operations to make personal protective equipment (PPE) who themselves have contracted COVID-19.

The ironic risks garment workers face as they make PPE

The latest incidents have been occurring in the Garment District of Los Angeles, the epicenter of apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Among the tens of thousands of workers employed in this sector, approximately half are undocumented immigrants. The result is a culture in which workers are afraid to speak out about their wages and working conditions. The lack of transparency in this industry has made it difficult to track the origins of COVID-19 outbreaks. The 300 cases attributed to one factory alone last week is a symbol of how the Los Angeles area has been one of the largest coronavirus hotspots in the U.S.

Factories in countries that have much larger garment industries, such as Bangladesh, are also seeking to relaunch their operations and get back into business by manufacturing PPE. The catch is that more garment workers will confront more threats to their health from the virus, ironically as they make products designed to protect other people from being stricken by it.

A tool to boost transparency in the PPE sector

To that end, the people behind the Open Apparel Registry (OAR), an open-source online tool that maps garment factories worldwide, say they now have the data needed to help monitor sites where workers are making PPE.

OAR announced that manufacturing sites of various sizes can be monitored, whether they are small work studios with a handful of workers or far larger factories. Supply chain and procurement managers can access the database for free and research factories based on the type of products (such as gloves and masks) they manufacture. Anyone, such as human rights advocates working within an NGO, can access OAR’s tool for free. All they need to do is register for an ID.

As of now, the PPE manufacturer option now provided by OAR has a handful of datasets. The organization is currently seeking more data, which would provide buyers of PPE more insight and transparency in their supply chains.

Image credit: Vera Davidova/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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