Labour Behind the Label’s Efforts During COVID-19

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SEATTLE, Washington — Labour Behind the Label (LBL) is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit organization campaigning for laborer’s rights internationally. Its platform raises awareness and encourages consumers to acknowledge the exploitation and inequalities in the garment industry. Serving as a key proponent for change, the organization has swiftly altered the perception of mainstream brands and amplified the voices of the underserved, underpaid and unheard workers. Labour Behind the Label’s efforts during COVID-19 displays its ongoing commitment to the cause.

Previous Accomplishments

To date, LBL is making significant improvements in bridging the disconnect between the clothing displayed in stores worldwide and the people that make them.
In response to Bangladesh’s low living wage and the Rana Plaza disaster, the organization petitioned for U.K. retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building. The retailers’ commitment supports that the Rana Plaza victims should receive long-term compensation and workers in Indonesia should receive severance pay. The accord also stands in solidarity with garment workers demanding a living wage in Cambodia.

COVID-19’s Impact

As the pandemic disrupted many industries worldwide, the already unstable infrastructure of garment production faced massive challenges.
During the early months of the pandemic, factories in China were not receiving the essential raw materials to produce clothing, causing closures. Similarly, in Europe and the United States, brands began to cancel orders and close factories, sending home all workers and removing their main source of income.
Though many brands halted production to reduce the spread of COVID-19, some factories have remained open. In producer countries, few safety measures were put in place; thus risking the lives of the workers.

COVID-19 Response

Like many nonprofit organizations, LBL’s focus has switched to risk management and prevention in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. LBL is currently serving as the main proponent for all brands to protect their workers during the pandemic. This central aim includes not only job security but health and safety as well.
By appropriately allotting funds and campaigning for the top five retailers and the top two e-retailers in the U.K. to protect their workers in the supply chain, progress is steadily being made.

Holding Clothing Companies Accountable

In March 2020, reports suggest that the department store Marks & Spencer canceled £100m in clothing orders. This mass cancellation resulted in the immediate discharge and default of payment for workers in its main production countries, including China, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In response to campaigning efforts, the brand has since made an agreement with its suppliers to receive and pay the full amount for the order placed. LBL is continuing to ensure that Marks & Spencer will be accountable for the equality and ethical treatment of all workers in similar circumstances going forward.
Another one of Labour Behind the Label’s efforts involves the fast-fashion e-commerce site Boohoo. Despite the essential halt on the economy at the beginning of the pandemic, Boohoo’s net sales rose about 45% throughout quarantine. This increase is because the company did not close any factories. However, it also did not enforce safety precautions, thus promoting an incredibly dangerous work environment.
In June 2020, LBL published a thorough report which outlines the poor conditions, allegations and lack of general adherence to COVID-19 protocols in the Boohoo supply chain, namely in the Leicester factory. Most shockingly, workers also reported that they were still required to work despite testing positive for COVID-19.
Since then, Boohoo has responded to the report and media attention stating that it would investigate the claims specifically concerning the Leicester factory. The company went on to state that it would conduct an independent review of its U.K. supply chain, invest $12.5 million in eradicating malpractice in any supplier factories and increase its use of third-party auditors.

On its website, LBR asserts that “no-one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap T-shirt and that a living wage is a basic human right, as is working without fear for your life.” Through its advocacy and campaigns, LBR is working to prevent exploitation and injustices to workers in the clothing industry.

Samantha Acevedo-Hernandez
Photo: Flickr

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