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LONDON – Millions of workers in Pakistan’s textile industry face destitution unless a way forward can be found between brands and their suppliers which has so far seen around US$200m worth of orders cancelled.

Pakistan’s textiles sector, which also incorporates agricultural in the form of cotton production, employs around ten million people. With brands such as M&S, Zara, Next and Primark having cancelled huge swathes of orders, Pakistan’s labour force – 80 per cent of which is not registered for any social protection according to Prime Minister Imran Khan – faces a future of grave uncertainty.

Apparel Insider interviewed Shafiq Shahzad, Trade and Investment Minister at the UK High Commission for Pakistan. He told us Pakistan is currently gathering information on the industry, and initial assessments suggests around US$200m of orders have been cancelled, while economic activity in the textile industry is down by 15-20 per cent.

“As Pakistan exports more than 50 per cent of its textiles and garments, the industry has been hit very hard,” he said.

Shahzad said parts of the industry have started to reopen in recent weeks following a lockdown due to Covid-19. “Units which have received orders have been allowed to start manufacturing … the industry is running at maybe 50 per cent capacity,” he said.

Shahzad added: “Most of the industry is running on Daily Wage Labour which means that if the factory shuts down, the labourer goes unemployed. They do not get benefits from the state so this is a huge problem the industry and society is facing.

“The impact is very far reaching on employment and the social fabric of society due to Pakistan’s heavy reliance on textile and clothing.”

Shahzad also pointed to significant ‘downward linkages’ for Pakistan in terms of cotton growing, a significant feedstock for the country’s textile sector. Millions of women are employed in Pakistan’s cotton sector.

Cotton is an important cash crop and lifeline of Pakistan’s textile industry. Cotton production is concentrated in two provinces with Punjab accounting for nearly 75 per cent and Sindh nearly 25 per cent of area. For the most part, cotton is produced by small farmers cultivating less than five hectares of land. An estimated 1.6 million farmers grow cotton.

Looking for a way forward, Shahzad said manufacturers and retailers need to “work collaboratively in this time of crisis,” and said he is urging retailers to continue to take orders for which raw materials have already been received or where the orders have already been produced.

He also said Pakistan is looking at connecting local suppliers with major e-commerce sellers to shift surplus inventory.

Shahzad is currently in discussion with Saeed Khilji, chairman of the Textile Association of Leicestershire, to help resolve this issue and introduce more retailers to Pakistan manufacturers.

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