No Sweat is pressing ahead with its pioneering work on the ethical supply of garments after setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is building on partnerships with manufacturers in Bangladesh to provide printable T-shirts that have been produced in factories with high standards of workers’ rights.

In line with its focus on ethical production, it has now provided an update on its supply chain through the publication of its second Transparency Report, written by campaigner Jay Kerr who is leading on the T-shirt project.

However, while No Sweat’s original anti-sweatshop campaign work has gone from strength to strength, the report revealed the clothing business was severely affected by Covid-19 restrictions.

“For No Sweat, the pandemic and its aftermath has had a mix of positives and negatives,” the report stated. “On the one hand, the move to an ever more online world due to lockdowns in the UK led to an increase in people wanting to get involved in our campaign work, more interactions with other campaigning organisations and more contact with trade unions around the world.

“However, for our fledgling clothing company the impact of the pandemic has set us back several years. Delays in production and shipping, rising costs and loss of business with the closure of live music has meant our plans to increase staff members, move into new premises and expand our range have had to be shelved while we navigate our way through these rocky waters.

“That said, we are still here and still proving that it is possible to put workers’ rights first in the garment industry, even at a time of global crisis.”

No Sweat fights sweatshops by raising money for its campaign work and its Garment Worker Solidarity Fund, which distributes money to independent trade unions around the world. Some of this money comes from the sale of its T-shirts, sold directly to consumers and for garment decoration.

This fund helped garment workers in Bangladesh who were left without pay after major brands pulled out of production during the first Covid lockdown. It has also helped garment trade unions in Myanmar who have come under attack after last year’s military coup.

Since 2018, No Sweat has sourced from Oporajeo, a workers’ initiative in Bangladesh that has one of the most progressive attitudes to workers’ rights in the sector.

Growing demand for jute bags at Oporajeo was making it difficult for it to supply No Sweat with the volumes of clothing needed so, this year, No Sweat has taken on a second Bangladeshi supplier, Irene Knitwear.

Part of the Zoom Group, Irene Knitwear is a much larger company than Oporajeo with a focus on manufacturing knitted and woven garments for export. It has a fully unionised workforce that is registered and has become part of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF).

No Sweat is currently awaiting the arrival of its first shipment from Irene Knitwear after a lengthy production sampling process.

“The expansion of our supply chain to include Irene Knitwear means a new phase in our project,” the transparency report stated. “Our focus is in supporting strong, independent trade unions in the garment industry and we are pleased to say that our clothes are officially union-made.”

No Sweat is looking at new ways to ensure garment workers are fairly treated, such as creating a worker-driven social responsibility agreement to support best conditions in the factory.

This idea would be an alternative to the voluntary codes of conduct that many brands promote as best practice as it requires the clothing buyer to actively negotiate on conditions as a pre-requisite of placing an order.

No Sweat is also looking at setting up a small workers co-operative to run regular production of its most popular items, allowing it to work directly with a trade union in training workers in self-management and workers’ rights as well as giving them a greater share of the profits.

The transparency report is available for anyone to download from No Sweat’s website. Jay added: “This should be a standard in the garment industry. Brands should be transparent about who makes their clothes.”