This pandemic and the resulting economic fallout has hit many individuals and industries hard — including the fashion world. And during this time when even big brands are experiencing financial strains, garment workers — the most vulnerable in the fashion supply chain — stand to lose the most.
The vast majority of garment workers already work in unsafe conditions, are paid below living wages, and are not granted any paid sick leave. And workers in countries like Bangladesh (or undocumented workers in countries like the U.S.) may not even have access to basic medical care or social safety nets.
Even when the economy is booming, garment workers face challenges. So what happens when demand plummets and fashion brands can’t pay their bills? Supplier factories and garment workers will likely feel the ramifications first — and the hardest.
As Vogue Business explains, “it’s standard practice for brands not to pay for products until after they’re shipped. When an order is put on hold or canceled, payments are also held or canceled. That leaves suppliers on the hook for both their workers’ salaries and, because they buy their materials outright, for what they owe their own suppliers. Without revenue coming in or much cushion in their budgets, factory owners may be forced to cut jobs.”
So what’s a conscious fashion activist to do? Below are three ways that we can get involved by standing in solidarity with or advocate for garment workers around the world.
The Garment Worker COVID-19 Relief website has a list of petitions we can sign. Below is a summary and links to the petitions:
Remake is a nonprofit advocating for a better fashion industry through films, stories, campaigns, and more. The organization launched their #PayUp campaign to demand that major brands, including C&A, Gap, Kohl’s, American Eagle, ASOS, URBN (Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People), Primary, JC Penny, Walmart, and others pay for in-production orders. They are also publishing regular brand updates.
Oxfam also has a petition demanding that Australian brands pay up for canceled or postponed orders.
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has a petition specifically for Nike and Under Armour. There are also instructions on their site for how to raise awareness and tweet at Nike and Under Armour about this issue.
Traidcraft Exchange has a petition to fast fashion brands in the UK, like Marks and Spencer and Primark, to honor their commitments to their contracts with their suppliers.
Labour Behind the Label has a call out to brands like Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Asda, Arcadia, ASOS and Boohoo to honor their contracts and pay for canceled/postponed orders.
The Garment Worker Center is a worker rights organization based in Los Angeles that advocates for low-wage garment workers. GWC launched their COVID-19 Relief Fund in an effort to provide resources to members during this pandemic.
The organization’s members are currently experiencing threatened job security, loss of income and food insecurity, and for workers that are still employed, they have reported unsafe and unsanitary conditions in garment factories that put them in danger.
Bangladesh is heavily impacted by the current situation, as about 80% of the country’s exports are from the garment industry.
This GoFundMe was made in partnership with AWAJ Foundation, a labor rights nonprofit founded and led by garment workers with over 600,000 workers across Bangladesh, and Shimmy, a workforce development organization.
And here you’ll find the Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity GoFundMe. BGWS is currently providing necessities like food and hand sanitizer to garment workers and also lobbying employers associations and the Bangladeshi government and provide enough relief for these garment workers.
Fashion Revolution has created a letter template for us to send emails to brands demanding that they pay up for canceled orders or orders they’ve put on hold. Fashion brands have reportedly canceled about $1.5 billion worth of orders in Bangladesh alone. This has led to over 1 million garment workers being fired or furloughed — many without any compensation or severance. It’s time we get brands to pay up for what they owe to their suppliers.
5. Support Small Ethical Brands (if possible)
I know this is a challenging time for many of us financially and we’re likely cutting back on our fashion budget, but IF you are going to buy something, please consider supporting a small ethical/sustainable fashion brand! These are the brands fighting to ensure that garment workers, weavers, makers, craftspeople, etc. are earning living wages, have sick leave/health benefits, and work in safe conditions.
This pandemic will be really tough on small businesses and there are some who may not be able to make it through this time — they need our support now more than ever.
If you are not spending money on fashion right now (which I totally get — I have to cut back significantly, if not completely, as well), consider sharing these brands with your friends via social media! There are still people purchasing right now and that money might as well go to the brands treating people and the planet well.
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