The apparel industry has sent an open letter to global brands and buying communities with an appeal for support pandemic stricken Sri Lanka.
Signed by Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Secretary General Tuli Cooray the letter listed challenges faced by the country and the industry in terms of vaccination against COVID-19 and possible delays in the timely supply of orders.
Following is the full text of the open letter.
Each wave of the COVID-19 pandemic affected Sri Lanka’s apparel industry in different manners.
During the first and second waves we were hit with your order cancellations, your demands for longer credit terms, and your order pushbacks that crippled our liquidity and ability to sustain operations. However, despite these challenges, not only did we sustain our workforce, but we also rose to the occasion to partner with the brands we work with.
We accepted without choice, your requests for the credit terms that extended anywhere from 90 days to 180 days, we assumed liabilities on raw material for cancelled goods, we accepted cancellations that left our lines dry and led to us having to fend for a 350,000 strong workforce out of pocket.
Unlike the last two waves, in the third wave, this global pandemic has hit us in a rather different manner. Due to the global inequity in vaccine distribution you and the countries you reside in are starting to ease restrictions and go back to what life looked like pre COVID-19 while we have been crippled by yet another wave that has seen COVID-19 cases rise by over 130% in 2 months and COVID related deaths rise by 239% in the same period. We continue to suffer due to a lack of availability of vaccines in the market.
It is with these challenges that we are doing our best to keep operations running in a manner that prioritises the health and safety of our associates. Naturally, this leads to lower capacity and frequent stoppages as cases break out around the country. Unfortunately, we are saddened at the lack of partnership shown with Sri Lanka during these trying times.
Whilst most major brands have partnered with us in a positive manner while a few have forgotten or ignored the sacrifices we made during the first two waves and we are being asked to air goods for delays of three to four weeks when during the first two waves we accepted cancellations and extended payment terms up to six months in some instances.
We urge you to step up in our time of need and show us the partnerships that you say you herald. While we understand the dynamic nature of the fashion industry, we are currently handicapped by a force of nature that is outside of our control.
Please support us in prioritising worker health and safety, ensuring over a million people have a livelihood on the other side of this pandemic, and help us get through these trying times together. In a low margin industry such as ours, paying to air freight thousands of goods is an expense that will inevitably lead to the collapse of the industry as a whole. The ball is in your court. Please do support us and be our partner in our time of need as we were during yours.
We are fully aware that when Sri Lanka transitioned to an open economy the most valuable partnerships that we created with you brought our industry to be the back bone of the economy. It is in this spirit that we are seeking your intervention to help us in our difficult situation.