What is the situation?
“An estimated £10 billion of unsold clothing sat in warehouses across the UK with nowhere to go”[i]
Most garment manufacturing by big fashion brands is outsourced to developing countries such as Bangladesh. Many orders were cancelled with impersonal emails and some brands stopped communicating altogether according to the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) who went on to say that over 72% of buyers refused to pay for raw materials ordered and 91% wouldn’t pay for the cut, make and trim costs[ii] (making up of garments)
This is now thought to be between 3.2 and 5.8 billion[iv] owed for orders some that were completed and ready to be shipped. Garment workers were doubly affected by coronavirus working in close quarters with no social distancing or proper ventilation. They already live precarious lives with no savings, healthcare or severance pay and housing insecurity. As one factory manager said:
“If coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers, then starvation will.”[v]
Who Hasn’t Paid?
Many big global names refused to pay, some that we in the UK would recognise such as Walmart (Asda/George), Mothercare, Arcadia Group (Burton, Topshop, Miss Selfridge & Dorothy Perkins) Urban Outfitters. Primark owed the Bangladeshi workers who made their garments £27 million but has recently agreed to pay while Edinburgh Wool Mill, parent brand to Peacocks, Bon Marche and Jaeger, owned by billionaire Philip Day still owes £27 million[vi]. Some brands like Gap are asking for discounts of 20% or more or extending payment terms, which will not helps workers in extreme poverty who live hand to mouth.
“It takes a CEO from a big fashion or retail company just four days to earn the same amount a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn over her lifetime.”[vii]
What Can I Do?
So, how can you help to put pressure on these big brand baddies? Firstly, you can check the up to date tracker to which brands have yet to pay up: https://www.workersrights.org/issues/covid-19/tracker/
Then you can sign this petition or one of the many others that focus on brands in from specific countries:
Next, you can go to the brand’s social media accounts and post the hashtags #payup & #payyourworkers on their posts. This coordinated campaign and public outcry is working as already 21 brands have agreed to pay in full paying back over $22 billion, just over half of the $40 billion that is owed.
Lastly, you can donate to the emergency fund to support workers financially set up by the campaigning group Clean Clothes: https://cleanclothes.org/campaigns/covid-19
We owe it to those workers who have been exploited for years to bring us our fast fashion bargains Please help and support in any way you can, it really can make a difference.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES