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COVID Vaccines: Garment Unions, Labour Groups Urge UK, EU, Others to Support TRIPS Waiver at WTO

Public appeal issued by Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of labour rights groups across 44 countries, citing pandemic impact on workers’ health and livelihoods
Covid WTO

Washington: Garment workers’ unions, labour and human rights groups on Wednesday called on all governments, especially the UK, European Union, Switzerland, Japan, Norway and Australia, to support the TRIPS waiver proposal for COVID-19 vaccines before the World Trade Organisation.

The public appeal by Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network of labour rights groups spanning across 44 countries, along with more than 200 organisations from the garment industry comes as the pandemic has led to huge losses to the fashion sector as well as loss of health and livelihoods of its workers.

India and South Africa called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines in a communication to the WTO in October last year so that people in developing countries get access to life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible.

Since then, the proposal started gathering support even in the US and the European Union. The Biden administration has announced its support for the TRIPS waiver.

“Garment workers’ unions, and labour and human rights groups working to protect the rights of garment workers globally, call on all governments, especially the UK, EU, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, and Australia to support the TRIPS waiver and finalise a strong proposal as quickly as possible,” the Clean Clothes Campaign said in a release.

The appeal also urges these countries and others as well to take all possible measures to diversify and expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, testing kits, and personal protective equipment through widespread sharing of technology, including by participating in the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the fashion industry, with long periods of lockdowns across the world impacting on sales.

Numerous brands have filed for bankruptcy or entered administration in the past year, including Debenhams, which entered administration in April 2020, the Arcadia Group, which collapsed in November 2020, Camaïeu, which went into administration during 2020, and Esprit which placed six German subsidiary companies in administration in March 2020.

The latest surge of COVID-19 cases in India and other parts of South Asia are deeply concerning, and have once again impacted workers’ health and livelihoods, the campaign said.

The global supply chains of international brands and retailers are spread across low-and-middle-income countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Central America and Mexico, and employ at least an estimated 35 million workers, it added.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, the garment and textile industry, and especially its poor workers have suffered huge losses,” it said.

The campaign also urged global brands to publicly support the TRIPS Waiver proposal and global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, testing kits, and personal protective equipment.

It urged the global brands to lobby governments to support the TRIPS Waiver and expand capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines and other medical equipment to keep workers safe and help garment supply chains recover.

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