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Durham University

Research & business

Our research response to the Covid-19 pandemic


We conduct boundary-breaking research that improves lives across the world. Here’s how we’re applying that research to help people combat the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and help chart the route to recovery.


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How Covid-19 is affecting the global clothing industry

(16 October 2020)

Smiling female worker in a clothing factory

hoto credit - Mlondolozi Mbolo /Decent Work Regulation

The Covid-19 pandemic is intensifying challenges to worker protection in the garment sector and the effects on workers have become a global concern.

Professor Deirdre McCann and Karina Patricio Ferreira Lima from Durham Law School and Professor Kelly Pike from York University, Canada consider the challenges and possible ways forward.

Concerns have evolved into fears

Longstanding challenges have intensified during the pandemic. Enduring concerns about health and safety in clothing factories, for example, have evolved into fears about whether a safe return to these workplaces can be guaranteed.

Workers’ struggles to care for their families are central to a workforce that is 80% female. These work and family anxieties have hardened into fears about how children will be fed and clothed, as furloughed workers lose wages and, in some cases, employee benefits such as childcare, meals and healthcare.

Global cooperation to ensure worker protection

Global cooperation is more important than ever to protect garment workers, and large clothing brands have a vital role to play in this area. Sustainable social protection systems are also crucial, as is effective state enforcement of labour standards.

Most importantly, the voice of the workers must be at the heart of all policy changes. The policy makers must ensure that all changes are based on the experience and needs of the garment workers.

We consider all these challenges – and provide some policy responses - in this article for LSE Social Policy

Find out more

Deirdre McCann is a professor in Durham Law School and her research focuses on international and domestic labour laws. Karina Patricio Ferreira Lima is a PhD Candidate at Durham Law School and Professor Kelly Pike researches on the southern Africa garment industry at York University, Canada

They are part of Decent Work Regulation in Africaan international collaboration between Durham University, the University of Cape Town, South Africa, York University, Canada and local and international stakeholders. It is part of a broader investigation into globally-shared challenges to effective labour regulation funded by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund and Economic and Social Research Council.

A recent study on Developmental Enforcement (2019) explores the effective enforcement of labour standards in South Africa and Lesotho. The project’s short film Rethabile’s Story has been screened internationally and is currently available to watch as part of the 2020 New York Workers Unite Film Festival.

The project can be followed on Twitter at @UnacceptableFoW.