The unequal impact of COVID-19 in the global apparel industry - Part I: The contractual roots - By Mercedes Hering

Editor’s note: Mercedes is a recent graduate of the LL.B. dual-degree programme English and German Law, which is taught jointly by University College London (UCL) and the University of Cologne. She will sit the German state exam in early 2022. In September 2020 she joined the Asser Institute as a research intern for the Doing Business Right project.


The Covid-19 pandemic is straining global supply chains and exposes the inequality that underlies them. As many countries entered lockdowns, the economy was brought to a rapid halt. This caused demand for apparel goods to plummet. Global apparel brands, in turn, have begun to disengage from business relationships with their suppliers. Lead firms cancelled or even breached their contracts with suppliers (often relying on force majeure or hardship), suspended, amended or postponed orders already made. This practice had a devastating effect on suppliers.

This situation again shows that the contractual structure of global supply chains is tilted towards (often) European or North American lead firms. In this blog, I will first outline the power imbalance embedded in global supply chain contracts. Secondly, I will outline how order cancellations impact suppliers and their workers. In Part II, I will go through four approaches to mitigate the distress of suppliers and their workers and to allow the parties to reach solutions which take into account their seemingly antagonistic interests. More...