Between Private Governance and Public Regulation: Covid-19, Workers Rights and Sustainability in Global Garment Supply Chains

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn public attention to the adverse human rights impacts of unstainable business practices in global value chains linked to the European market. In the garment sector, major retailers in Europe have offloaded their costs incurred through the pandemic-related breakdown of consumer markets to supplier factories in the Global South. These costs are ultimately born by workers in garment-producing countries, who are either driven from employment into poverty or continue to work while being exposed to health risks deemed unacceptable in most parts of the Global North. The article traces the adverse human rights impacts of retailers’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic to long-standing issues in the garment supply chain. It gauges the contributions States and business enterprises in Europe could make to addressing these impacts in the light of the ongoing implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and sustainability rules.