The impact of COVID-19 on the people who made our clothes

Bangladesh garment industry 1920x960 Bangladeshs garment industry employs about 4.4 million people mostly women. © Drik Gallery 2

Have you ever thought about how privileged people are, myself included, to be born into G20 countries? How lucky are we to live in countries where one can dream of a bright future? Although there are some flaws in our political systems, most of the people here do have basic human rights and we can always have at least a chance to fight against injustice.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have this privilege. The pandemic (COVID-19) has proved something we were already aware of: fast fashion comes at the expense of labour rights.

<img src=“Fast fashion in Bangladesh.jpg” alt=“Bangladesh’s garment industry employs about 4.4 million people, mostly women.” title=“image tooltip”>
Bangladesh’s garment industry employs about 4.4 million people, mostly women. © picture-alliance/NurPhoto/M.Hasan

It’s time to wake up and stop buying into a system built on human rights violations

In the global fashion industry, brands typically pay their supplies weeks or even months after delivery. This means that suppliers pay upfront for the materials or fibres and in response of the pandemic (COVID-19), many fashion brands and retailers decided not to take care of these orders, leaving the factories no choice than destroy or keep hold of unwanted goods already made and lay off their workers in droves.


Bloomberg reports that this has impacted the lives of 1.2 MILLION workers. Approximately $1.5 BILLION of Bangladesh garment orders.

Bloomberg

To be fair, some big international buyers like Primark, H&M, Inditex, Marks & Spencer or URBN (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People), among others, have promised to keep their commitment and honours their contracts, however, no time frame has been outlined on when the payments will be made- keeping in mind the urgency of the crisis and its catastrophic impact on workers already.

Why fast fashion needs to #PAYUP

The Instagram account @remakeourworld, a community of designers, IG addicts, storytellers and feminists are using their voice and creativity to make the invisible women who power the fashion industry visible. This amazing team is driving a social media campaign to call these brands to #PAYUP the money owed to their respective garment workers.

This is pretty simple and obvious – once you open your eyes and you realise that you’re taking away someone else freedom – because our ignorance has allowed us to buy into a system built on human rights violations. And if these massive brands don’t pay for for their produced orders, without such payment, many workers are facing homelessness and starvation.

Information and labour and human rights trends of major apparel exporting countries in Asia as a result of the pandemic via the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre here.

View this post on Instagram

/ URBN, enough is enough. It’s time to #PayUp for cancelled orders! ⠀ URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters (@urbanoutfitters), Free People (@freepeople), BHLDN (@bhldn), and Anthropologie (@anthropologie) still owe millions of $$$. ⠀ Since URBN has been unable to respond to the 270k petitioners who’ve supported #PayUp since when the pandemic first hit, SIX MONTHS AGO — we figured we’d keep you updated on what they’ve been up to, instead of yanno, paying their garment workers. ⠀ At the start of the pandemic, URBN home office employees (current and former) were *required* to report to work in person to sustain e-commerce during city-advised (Philadelphia) shutdowns. ⠀ Workers had to come into close contact with individuals such as: models (while dressing them and applying makeup) and freelancers, some from New York, where the pandemic hit hardest in March. ⠀ There is evidence to suggest that URBN deliberately minimized the severity of the pandemic and also hid information from employees. ⠀ It was totally justified tho! Denise Albright, Chief Operating Officer for Anthropologie North America, told employees on a March 18 call that “it’s extremely essential that we get the [digital] sales to offset some of the major losses we’re going to have.” ⠀ And YET, the company doesn’t seem to be struggling! During their quarterly reporting, their shares shot up more than 15% and the company announced a $34 million PROFIT. ⠀ DESPITE the increased sales, their values remain low! 🚫 URBN prevented suppliers from generating invoices by refusing to receive deliveries — materials were already sourced + labor accounted for. ⠀ ALWAYS ready to NOT play by the rules, URBN invoked the force majeure provision of their contracts w/ suppliers, a legal feature that is typically interpreted narrowly to prevent misuse. URBN then went further to impose 30% discounts, gutting 30% of the payment suppliers should have been receiving. ⠀ The WORST part? The URBN team do not even try to hide it. The company proudly credits ‘disciplined inventory control and better-than-expected top-line performance for the gains’ to investors. ⠀ URBN, no excuses — spend your profit on your people and #PayUp

A post shared by 𝗿𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗸𝗲 (@remakeourworld) on

Since Remake launched the campaign on March 30, 2020, 21 brands have agreed to pay up, most recent being Primark. However, the timing of this news comes as the brand launches an ”eco collection”, so, unfortunately, this launch has clear elements of greenwashing.

What can you do?

  • Sign this petition on change.org to support
  • Boycott the brands which have not paid their workers by not buying their products
  • Support the #PAYUP campaign on social media, by supporting or reposting their posts.

For recently added to the #PAYUP petition or recent #PAYUP victories, you can find the full brand list here.

You can make the difference supporting this movement on social media. DO YOUR BIT!

2 Replies to “The impact of COVID-19 on the people who made our clothes”

  1. I love that you write your post in 2 languages (Spanish and English). I’m a Spanish girl but I want practice a little (sorry for my mistakes😅).

    That post is very interesting. All people say about the problems that economy maybe will have in months but I nobody says nothing about the human rights or how the covid-19 affect to peple who not live un the G-20 countries😔.

    ¡This is necesary!

    1. Hey María, I just saw your comment… you made my day, I really mean it! It takes a lot of time to write everything in two languages, so, thank you for appreciating it 🥰

      Fashion brands make millions in profits each year, and yet year after year, garment workers keep fighting for survival. It doesn’t have to be this way. I hope that seeing these brands cancelling their orders with unpaid wages for clothes that were already sewn and ready to ship during the pandemic… will open people’s eyes.

      To be honest, most of the people know the real cost of cheap labour and cheap fashion but they don’t want to admit it… 😖 It’s easier that way, right?

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