JOLIET, Illinois — At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, fashion brands needed to close their stores for health concerns. This subjected garment workers to pay cuts, workplace exposure to the virus and unexpected firings. In the Worker Rights Consortium report, Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain, it was discovered that 21% of 396 garment workers across nine countries experienced wage decreases from August to September 2020. This reduction was a result of brands cutting costs, prioritizing shareholder interests and disregarding garment workers’ need for living wages. It has caused greater rates of poverty, health risks and labor exploitation for garment workers.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, all major fashion brands fail to pay their workers a living wage. They have not recognized that their business practices impact millions of workers in their supply chain and garment workers’ right to living wages. Brands that have reduced income for their garment workers include Adidas, H&M, Nike, GAP, Walmart, JCPenny, PVH, The Children’s Place and Express. This forced 88% of workers and their families to reduce the amount of food they eat in a day, 75% to accrue debt or borrow money to purchase food and 67% to reduce the quality of their meals or entirely skip a meal.
Social media tools and conversations with friends and family can ensure the sharing of this issue. It allows further awareness of the struggles poverty-stricken garment workers endure, such as widespread hunger. Infographics can also be made to explain how brands are firing workers, failing to pay severance pay and unlawfully reducing their incomes. The more accessible the information is, the more likely poverty-stricken garment workers will receive justice.
Stay Informed About Poverty
Poverty-stricken garment workers can be helped if the problems they experience are understood. The conditions they experience are a result of brands’ attempt to maximize profits and reducing costs. Suppliers are forced to pit themselves against each other when fashion brands demand lower production costs. Suppliers are then forced to ignore labor standards to cut corners and workers get forced into generational cycles of poverty with no way to escape low-wage jobs. Governments, in turn, support this foreign trade, ignore labor abuses and international labor and human rights.
Being informed allows for direct action that holds fashion brands accountable to ensure garment workers are not vulnerable to poverty, exploitation and hunger. It would allow workers to meet basic needs, afford proper education and adequate medical care. In March 2020, this community effort allowed about 80,000 garment workers in the South Africa Clothing and Textile Workers Union to receive six paid weeks of full pay through negotiation with South Africa’s Unemployment Insurance Fund.
Support a Global Online Campaign
Everyone can be part of the solution in making fashion brands pay their workers a just wage. In December 2020, Remake launched #ShareYourProfits as its second action for the PayUp Fashion campaign. It requests three demands to be met by brands that have made a profit in the third quarter during the pandemic.
The first demand urges brands to pay #TenCentsMore into a Severance Guarantee Fund. The fund is a social safety net fund requiring brands to pay $0.10 more per unit of apparel to ensure legally mandated wage and severance pay to their workers. The second demand is to provide garment workers direct relief to the income they lost. Relief can come from the brand’s own network or through international relief efforts. These international efforts include the International Labor Organization’s Call to Action and the USAID Memorandum of Understanding. The third demand is to protect workers’ freedom of association. This would protect worker rights, allow unions to form and uplift collective bargaining.
Remote activism can still reach the eyes and ears of brand executives and uplift poverty-stricken garment workers. Commenting and emailing targeted brands can unlock the fairly earned wages crucial for poverty-stricken garment workers during a pandemic. In October 2020, Remake was able to unlock $22 billion for garment workers by having 21 brands commit to paying for canceled orders that their garment workers had already completed. The 272,511 supporters who demanded brands be held accountable for their actions made this possible.
– Giselle Magana