There are so many terrible stories detailing the atrocious treatment of garment workers that we can sometimes forget to celebrate the small victories when they occur. A growing awareness has seen a groundswell of support from consumers, fashion influences, activists, non-profits, and government legislators resulting in significant progress in the fight towards the ethical treatment of garment workers. Last year was particularly momentous. Let's take a look at three key feats in 2021 that moved the industry forward and improved garment worker rights in apparel.
1 | #PayUp secured $22 billion of unpaid wages from brands
The success of the #PayUp social media campaign in 2021 was a major victory for garment workers globally. The brainchild of Ayesha Barenblat and her team at Remake, #PayUp launched in March 2020 with the aim of publicly naming and shaming brands who refused to pay their factories and workers for orders canceled due to the pandemic. The campaign was underpinned by a petition sent to over 200 fashion executives and signed by nearly 300,000 individuals demanding that brands pay for their canceled orders. The campaign quickly gained momentum through social media and by March 2021 over half the targeted brands had committed to ‘paying up’, recovering $22 billion of an estimated $40 billion worth of wages owed to garment workers. The success of the campaign has been touted as one of the most successful labor rights campaigns in the fashion industry in modern times and is in large part due to the coordinated efforts of garment workers, labor unions and non-profit activist groups backed by a groundswell of fashion influences and vocal consumers.
2 | The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was renewed and expanded
In a further win for garment workers, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was renewed and expanded as the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry on 21 August 2021. The International Accord has been signed by over 150 brands to date and provides basic safety protections for two million garment workers across the 1,300 Bangladesh factories of participating brands with the potential for global expansion (Remake). The Accord is significant as “it is the only initiative in the global garment industry through which brands and worker representatives can work together at a large scale and on an equal footing to make tangible progress towards a safer industry.” (Clean Clothes Campaign)
Like its predecessor, the International Accord is a legally-binding agreement between apparel brands and trade unions to make garment factories safe, with the advantage of a few notable inclusions:
Since its inception, the Bangladesh Accord has been literally life saving for hundreds of Bangladesh garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign,
“the Accord has brought crucial improvements to the lives of 2 million garment workers in Bangladesh, making 1,600 garment factories safer, and has created an effective and transparent complaint mechanism that is allowing workers to stand up for their own safety. Since 2013, Accord engineers have carried out over 38,000 inspections. Over 120,000 fire, building and electrical hazards have been fixed. The remediation progress rate at Accord factories is at 93 percent. More than 1.8 million workers have been trained in workplace safety. Workers or their representatives have made over 3,000 grievances through the health and safety complaints mechanism, of which over 270 are related to Covid-19.”
Based on this progress, there is great hope that the International Accord will improve and save the lives of many hundreds more garment workers across the globe. For further details on the Bangladesh Accord read our previous post here.
3 | California's SB62 (Garment Workers Protection Act) finally passed
Closer to home, the passing of California’s SB62 bill was a victory for American garment workers. The bill was unsuccessful when it was first proposed in 2020 but was reintroduced and signed into law by California's Governor Gavin Newsom on 27 September 2021. As explained in detail in our recent post, the bill legislates for garment workers in California to be paid the current legal minimum wage ($15 per hour) thus eliminating the unfair piece-rate pay method. This is a significant step forward for Californian garment workers who earned as little as $5.85 per hour prior to the bill. But the impact of the SB62 goes further than that, it provides a powerful precedent and blueprint for other states and even nations to follow suit.
2021 was a momentous year for garment workers. Through the coordinated efforts of consumers, trade unions, activist groups and government, progress was made towards a safer and fairer industry. There is still plenty of work to be done, however let's not forget to celebrate the wins and build on them to push toward a kinder and more humane fashion industry.