TELL BRANDS TO PROTECT ALL THEIR WORKERS
by Bel Jacobs
The devastating effects of COVID-19 on garment workers has exposed the base injustices of a system built on the lives and labour of the world’s poorest.
“Garment workers are facing unsafe working conditions, unpaid wages, union suppression and mass lay-offs,” says Meg Lewis, Labour Behind the Label. And it’s not just fashion. Almost every industry today births the same inequities. As Hiba Ahmad, from Global Justice Now, points out: “The situation of garment workers in the Global South is indicative of how the capitalist system devalues the lives and livelihoods, making them a cog in a global value chain that systematically puts their lives at risk.”
Remake’s petition, addressed to the industry, demands that brands pay for cancelled orders (sign it here).
Below, more activists and spokespeople suggest actions, both short and long term, to take on board now.
Safia Minney, REAL Sustainability: “We need to be thinking systemically about our new economy and how we choose to live and transition to that. Fashion is a huge employer globally and can be a valuable tool for development. We need urgently to look at how the Sustainable Development Goals and new trading practice, like the https://wfto.com/who-we-are#10-principles-of-fair-trade, can be used to empower workers and protect nature, biodiversity and the biosphere.”
Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK: “The vast majority of garment workers worldwide are women - just one of many areas in which women are over-represented in insecure labour and more at risk of losing their work during the COVID-19 crisis. It's also a reason that women are going to be over-exposed to the virus, with a lack of protective equipment, just as they will when fulfilling their roles as the majority of frontline healthcare staff. All these pressures are interlinked, and contribute too to the rise in domestic abuse and sexual exploitation that happens when households are under strain.
Part of the issue is that many women's voices are not being heard, and women leaders are not being allowed to the forefront of nations' COVID-19 responses. So how can women's needs be addressed? We need to be asking governments to collect better gender-disaggregated data to reveal the ways in which women really need support.
I'd love to see not only brands signing up to genuinely empower women across their entire value chain, but also media committing to showcase and applaud these brands to normalise positive action. So it's not just about raising money for charities, though this is an important role the private sector can play, it's also about supporting workers, producers and staff to be safe and supported - whether they are at home or abroad. Consumers can vote with their feet, buying from sustainable brands and small businesses who can prove that they know what's happening in their supply chain.”.
Nandita Shivakumar, South-India Coordinator, Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA): “AFWA has been working with its trade union partners in Asia to provide relief to workers and to understand the immediate needs facing workers. There are groups providing immediate relief who need support right now. Labour rights organisation Cividep in Bangalore is providing food for garment workers, especially those who have not received wages. Aajeevika Bureau is a non-profit organization working to assist migrant worker communities in the informal economy, providing them with food, shelter and health care. They’re receiving donations here.”
Meg Lewis, Labour Behind the Label: “We need to mobilise around these issues urgently. We cannot afford not to. In the short term, we need to pressure brands to honour their contracts, protect workers and pay wages in order to meet garment workers’ immediate needs. But this is also a pivotal moment in the industry. Brands can no longer deny their responsibilities to the workers who make their clothes. This is the time for campaigners and activists to demand systemic changes so that garment workers are never again left so vulnerable. Together with our partners, Labour Behind the Label is calling for better regulation and mandatory due diligence in the industry. Brands have proven time and time again that they simply cannot be trusted to comply with international human rights laws on a voluntary basis. In our new petition, we are calling on the UK’s biggest brands to meet our 7 demands to protect garment workers throughout the crisis and in the future. Please sign it here; the pressure is working. And, if you’re able to donate, grassroots groups offering direct support to garment workers urgently need your support https://www.supportgarmentworkers.org/donatemoney.”
Nazma Akter, Bangladeshi trade unionist and founder of the AWAJ Foundation: “We need to pressure brands to pay up. It’s tough because of COVID-19 but that shouldn’t mean workers don’t get paid. A lot of our workers have lost their jobs and most of them are female, supporting their families and kids. We need support from the brands. The profits have been going to them so they should be responsible for their workers.”
Hiba Ahmad, national council, Global Justice Now and Our Future Now: “Obviously, everyone should donate to emergency relief funds, boycott fast fashion and demand transparent supply chains. But the other thing is to keep eyes and ears open for new trade deals, which can have elements in them that undermine workers’ rights or promote race to the bottom in terms of health and safety regulations. Trade campaigning may not be the sexiest topic but it will become crucial for the coming years here after Brexit.”
Maria Chenoweth, CEO, Traid: “The structure of economic systems and consumerism has led garment workers into a poverty trap of low wages, exhaustive hours and an incredibly poor standard of life. COVID–19 has pushed the boundaries of capitalism and poverty further where, overnight, brands have abandoned their disposable fast fashion structures, leaving workers destitute. TRAID has launched a mechanism to donate money to obtain basic food for those people made our clothes: https://www.traid.org.uk/foodforgarmentworkers/ Looking ahead, there has to be a global legislation of how people conduct business, people are being exploited and dumped with little or no consideration.”
Tansy Hoskins, campaigner and author of Foot Work: “Garment workers face starvation. It is more important than ever to remember that social change won't happen unless we collectively organise. At this moment, we should group together around campaign groups like the Clean Clothes Campaign and work to pressure brands into paying for their factory orders. Use social media to challenge brands, write articles and letters, make art, music and films, hold fundraisers, get educated, share resources, shout from the rooftops if necessary. Do not let garment workers be forgotten."