Fashion is the largest employer around the world and also one of the heavier hit industries affected by COVID. As brands and retailers pull back orders and furlough staff to stay afloat, many garment workers are feeling the brunt of the fallout. But with many economies closed, and the future uncertain, how do we move forward? We did a little digging to see how life has been for garment workers in this pandemic and some organizations doing their part to help.
Garment Workers Affected by COVID
According to IndustriALL, many global brands are not only cancelling future orders but refusing to pay for orders that have already been completed. This is extremely devastating for the garment workers as they are not being paid for work they have already finished. These workers are also out of work currently as the factories they work in are closed and they are not receiving any sort of compensation during this distressing time.
These workers are being left confused as to how they are going to get paid for the work they have already done and how they will support their families during this period of unemployment. The majority of these workers are women working full time in order to put food on the table to feed their families.
Over one million workers in Bangladesh alone have already lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the order cancellations and refusal of brands to pay. Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert Ltd has started advocating on his own behalf for his factory and staff as major fashion brands have refused to pay for the orders that are already completed. The brands not paying are big guns Li & Fung and the Arcadia Group which houses Topshop, among others.
Immigrants in Brazil have seen their pay drop to mere pennies for PPE and face mask production, but find themselves in a tight spot when no other jobs can be found but they still have to feed their families.
On March 31st a young Cambodian garment worker named Soy Sros was arrested for posting about how the factory she worked for was letting go 88 workers rather than follow the guidelines administered by the government to send workers home with a reduced pay.
In case you thought otherwise, the USA isn't free from garment worker exploitation and American Apparel's Dov Charney is in the spotlight again as he continues to deny any COVID outbreak in his Los Angeles Apparel factory while the staff's COVID positive cases have surged to over 300, resulting 4 deaths in recent months. Additionally, many LA garment workers are also dealing with unemployment and are not being given access to unemployment benefits because many of these workers are working under the table.
What's Being Done to Help Garment Workers
Thankfully, governments and organizations are stepping in to do what they can. The Clean Clothes Campaign has published a robust breakdown of government support being issued by country for garment workers. Notably, Pakistan placed a two week ban on lay offs for garment workers along with an emergency fund for pay. It is imperative that brands, employers and governments come together in this time to find new ways to aid garment workers during this already very difficult time.
The Garment Worker Center
At the Garment Worker Center “Our vision is that Los Angeles garment workers transform the fashion industry to eliminate sweatshop labor. Workers lead the fight for a safe and dignified workplace with fair wages. We build power from the bottom up for social and economic justice”
GoodWeave is a non-profit dedicated to ending child-labor. Donations are used to protect children and their families during COVID-19.
Labour Behind the Label
“Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry”
The #PayUp Campaign
A large part of progress as we've seen in the last few months is awareness to the issue at hand and the use of social media to hold responsible parties accountable. The #payup campaign is bringing to light the major brands cancelling orders and refusing to pay garment factories for work they've already completed. And it's working! Here's the progress made so far of brands stepping up and paying up right now.
Going beyond cancel culture to creating pathways for real change and justice to occur is how we will move forward together. If you are looking for an ethical factory to manufacture your clothing we recommend you try our ethical manufacturing platform where you can search ethically certified factories around the world, compare pricing, and manage production all in one place. Our factory partners have gotten creative to support their staff during COVID and they cannot wait to make your product.