In the four short months since lockdowns first began in China, many things have drastically changed. The manufacturing industry and supply chains have been severely disrupted, as great uncertainty about supply and demand looms heavily over the sector. This disruption, coupled with the fact that schools have been closed across the Asian region for months, means that parent workers employed in factories have been particularly hard hit. In March and April 2020, The Centre for Child Rights and Business (‘The Centre’ for short and formerly ‘CCR CSR’) has sought to get a more up-to-date picture of the current situation at factories across Asia, and how that is affecting parent and juvenile workers.
We conducted surveys and interviews in eight Asian countries since March 2020. All in all, we interviewed 27 workers, nine children and 40 factory managers, while a further 92 factory managers filled out an online survey. These efforts centred on three main target groups: migrant parent workers, juvenile/young workers and factories/suppliers. The data and information gathered has shed light on a number of major challenges currently experienced by the above-mentioned groups.
How are migrant parent workers coping?
In our previous post “Stressed, Worried and Broke: How Covid-19 is Impacting Migrant Parent Workers”, we detailed the challenges that migrant parent workers in China are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, which include stress about the children’s education, reduced income and childcare struggles. Our recent surveys in seven Southeast Asian countries on the other hand reveals that the top three challenges there are difficulties uniting with family members, difficulties balancing childcare and job responsibilities and not having access to suitable childcare options brought on by school closures.
From a factory perspective, we also found that the effects of COVID-19 on parent workers were having a big impact on factory operations:
Reduced income or lay-offs of parent workers is affecting children’s access to nutritious, balanced meals, potentially leading to an increase in illnesses among children. This in turn is also resulting in higher absenteeism in factories among parents asking for leave to care for their children.
Lower efficiency at work due to parents’ worrying about children’s education
Higher turnover rates including loss of long-term skilled workers due to parents having to quit to look after their children because of a lack of childcare options
What does the situation look like at factories?
Our surveys, which took place between March 27 and April 22, 2020, show that shrinking orders is the top challenge currently faced by factories in China and Vietnam. In China, 69% of surveyed factories saw their orders reduced. We also saw that in both China and Vietnam some factories had up to 100% of their orders withdrawn or postponed. In Vietnam, a quarter of factories surveyed said they had to reduce their workforce, while close to half of all factories surveyed in China and Vietnam are unable to predict order volumes in the next 12 months.
Juvenile workers and child rights challenges
Another group of workers that are highly vulnerable during these times of COVID-19 are juvenile workers – those who’ve reached the minimum working age but are under 18. 61% of the factories we surveyed hired juvenile workers. According to our surveys, the main challenge faced by juvenile workers is that factories are unable to guarantee zero COVID-19 spread in their factories, thus putting juvenile workers’ health at risk. 56% of surveyed factories in Vietnam said that this was the biggest issue they were facing with regards to juvenile workers. A further 22% of factories said that high turnover among juvenile workers was another major issue. Given the uncertainty in the manufacturing sector, it is likely that many of those juveniles who quit their factory jobs will turn to less regulated sectors to source an income, thereby further compromising their health and safety.
How we’re adapting & how child rights initiatives can continue
No-one knows how long it will take for the manufacturing industry to return to normal, but the challenges brought on by COVID-19 are wide-reaching. For brands supporting child rights initiatives in supply chains, COVID-19 has also disrupted programme implementation. While parent workers, juvenile workers and children affected by supply chains have an urgent need for continued support, we’re also all too aware that many of the original programmes are not feasible in their original format. That’s why we’ve rethought and remodelled programmes to make it viable for brands and their supply chains to continue supporting and advancing child rights in this crucial time.
For example, in order to enable a client to continue supporting young workers in their supply chain in Indonesia, we recently delivered an young worker training session via 2 half-day live streaming sessions in their supplier factory, as travel restrictions meant that The Centre’s trainers could not go to the factory in person. The training, which is part of a youth development programme that aims to build up the skill-set of young workers and provide them with decent work opportunities, focused on self-assessment & development and interpersonal skills. The factory was required to provide a good internet connection, laptop and projector, LCD screen and speaker, while The Centre did the rest. Despite not being accustomed to online training, both the factory management and the young workers found the training beneficial. The young workers said the knowledge they acquired will help them strive towards achieving their career goals.
Meanwhile in China, The Centre is also developing online versions of key training programmes such as migrant parent training, child labour prevention & remediation etc., together with innovative, low-threshold online activities targeting migrant parent workers. The leaflet below introduces our full suite of solutions to support migrant parent workers in supply chains. Similar COVID-19 tailored packages are also currently being developed in Vietnam and other key Asian countries where The Centre works.
Please contact us for questions or more info.
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