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Tunis Factories Unravel as Pandemic Forces Closures

Tunisian garment factories, which mainly supply European fashion brands, have been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with thousands of job losses and increasing complaints about labour rights violations in the sector, union leaders said. Exports have recovered from a drop in shipments to key European markets, but about 4,500 textile and garment workers lost their jobs in the year ending February 2021, according to the Tunisian Federation for Textiles and Garments (FTTH). The garment and textile industry is the North African country’s second-biggest export earner, official data shows, and contributed €2.1bn to the economy in 2020, according to the FTTH industry group. More than 150,000 Tunisians work in the industry, mos of them women, and the pandemic has shone a light on widespread labour abuses, said Mounir Hassine, regional director of the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), an NGO. About 80% of Tunisia’s textile and clothing plants produce exclusively for Europe, meaning they were badly affected when exports to the EU plunged 15% in 2020 from a year earlier.