Covid-19 has affected us all in one way or another; no-one has been left untouched.
‘Mentally? No, I’m good,’ We hear someone say — well, we’re happy about that.
‘Emotionally? Nope, I’m sound,’ We hear someone say — well, we’re happy about that.
‘Physically? Never been better.’ A wise guy proceeds to show off his toned arms — well, again, we’re happy.
‘Financially? I’ll be fine; I work in corporate!’ Well, again, we’re happy about that for you while simultaneously sympathising for those who have lost their job through no fault of their own but, for the fact, they don’t have a corporate job.
*side note: all examples are based on real conversations we’ve had with people and conversations that we’ve overheard outside, while keeping a safe social distance, of course.
The lack of compassion was outstanding; here were people who had lost their livelihoods but many (we say many as it’s not everyone, but still enough) of those at the top didn’t bat an eyelid because it didn’t affect them. It brought to mind factory workers who have spent hours and sacrificed so much to make the clothes on our backs but have now lost their income, through no fault of their own, and have been shown little to no compassion by the retailers and brands that use them via suppliers.
Brands/retailers typically pay their suppliers after their order has been shipped but when Covid-19 struck, many of them cancelled orders or put a stop payment on orders they had already placed, even though clothes manufacturers had held up their end of the bargain by making the clothes.
It’s heartless, cruel and a total abuse of power to treat people this way and shows the true colours of any brand or retailer who does this to the people who MAKE their clothes for them for chicken scratch, let’s be honest, only for them to then sell to us at a profit.
We understand that they also needed to shut down because of Covid-19 but that in no way, shape or form gives them the right or the excuse to cancel or not pay for orders or to then back out of contracts that were already established. Fashion Revolution, an ensemble of global citizens who are committed to re-shaping the fashion industry as an industry that respects the environment and values people over profit, have questioned major retailers and brands about how they handled Covid-19’s impact on their suppliers and supply chain workers:
- UK retailer Primark announced it would create a fund to pay its supply chain workers. But questions still remain over whether the brand will be receiving and paying for orders already made or in-production from its factories, including covering the costs of raw materials that factories have paid for in advance to manufacture their orders not yet in production.
- H&M, Target, Marks & Spencer, Inditex, Kiabi, and PVH have all publicly confirmed that they intend to receive and pay for products already made and orders already placed, but in some cases, no time frame has been outlined on when payments will be made – keeping in mind the urgency of the crisis and its catastrophic impact on workers unfolding already.
- Brands that have yet to respond to calls asking them to #PayUP include C&A, Mothercare, Bestseller, Tesco, Kohls, Walmart, LPP, JCPenney, among others. At the time of writing, we cannot confirm whether these brands have paid for completed and in-production orders. However, they have not publicly responded when called on to make payments in a report by the Global Center for Workers’ Rights.
- UK retailer New Look has sent a letter to its suppliers cancelling in-production orders and suggesting payments would be delayed “indefinitely”. The retailer told suppliers, “This is a matter of survival”. Yet, like many brands in crisis, the fight for survival often doesn’t extend to supply chain workers or stakeholders not directly employed by the big brands.
Keep in mind, Fashion Revolution have been updating this page on their website DAILY since March and the following are the only three responses they have had:
- “These workers now don’t know how they will take care of their families in the coming days – how they will manage costs for food, rent and other necessities. They can’t even imagine what they’ll do if they or a family member needs medical treatment for the Corona Virus. The meager income these workers earned was barely enough to cover their living costs, and as a result, they have little to no savings set aside to deal with a crisis such as this.” – Nazma Akter, AWAJ Foundation
- “Inditex is committed to working with its suppliers through the impacts of Covid-19. As a priority, we are working closely with suppliers to ensure they are following official guidance to protect the health of workers in factories during the pandemic. We are fulfilling all our responsibilities to our suppliers by ensuring that all orders that have been produced or are currently in production are completely paid according to the original payment terms.” – Inditex
- “In these difficult times, it is our priority to maintain as many jobs as possible. The foregoing pertains both to our employees and to those of our suppliers. We have been receiving information that the effects of the changes have been of particular severity in Bangladesh; therefore, we have been doing our utmost to support our Asian suppliers in this hardship. First and foremost, all our obligations have been settled on an ongoing basis. In addition, we are going to pay for the orders in production and already produced; however, some of them are likely to be received with a delay.” -LPP
The word exploitation comes to mind.
This is why it’s so imperative that we support and champion ethical fashion brands/retailers who have a heart for and truly care about those who produce their clothes for them; it shows they remember that they are actual humans, and not sewing machines whose only job is to crank out impossible numbers of clothes without the decency of having employee benefits and labour, social or health protection. Brands such as: Ethical roots, Thought (one of our founder’s favourite brand’s), People Tree, Mayamiko, Know The Origin and Bibico, who go above and beyond making sure the factory workers who make their clothes are paid fairly and put money back into the communities to help them thrive; some of the brands have created their own code of conducts that suppliers MUST adhere to, for example, that labour hasn’t been forced, there’s NO child labour (a topic we’ll be talking about at a later date) and working hours aren’t excessive — they have punishments for any breaches.
If you’re a lover of vintage items, second-hand/vintage stores are perfect places to shop for up-cycled pieces without breaking the bank (Brick Lane is our founder’s favourite place for vintage items). It’s also a more ethical way of shopping because you’re re-wearing a garment instead of buying new ones which have to be constantly made, which then contributes to fast fashion.
Think on this:
You have spent years (and probably gone through internships where you haven’t been paid) studying for a particular vocation or to hone your creative skills so that you’re able to find work, to excel in the work sphere and to get paid for the hours, dedication and talent that you’ve combined to get the work done to a high standard.
The money you earn weekly/bi-weekly/monthly is money you’ve worked hard for.
Money you may have literally cried over because of an impossible deadline you didn’t think you’d meet, you were under too much pressure from your boss and were trying to balance work and family life at the same time. Now, imagine that while your pour all of your heart and energy into getting the work done, your work environment isn’t safe and neither do you have workers rights so God forbid something happened to you in the workplace you wouldn’t be able to file or raise a complaint.
Now, when the money is deposited into your account, imagine that what you have received is barely the National Living Wage so you won’t have enough to be able to pay your mortgage/rent, bills, feed yourself and your family, and pay for other necessities.
After reading that, the following thought may come to mind:
‘I don’t get paid enough for this.’
If so, then you share something in common with factory workers who rightfully deserve the money they make yet aren’t being paid enough. For example, some of them are artisans and have spent years being taught how to weave each stitch by hand to create the beautiful garments that we simply throw on and walk down the street in, yet they don’t get paid for their skill and the time they have spent crafting, just as you expect to get paid fairly and correctly for your skill and time you have put into getting work accomplished.
Our founder, Lami Elizabeth Abrahams, commented on the situation from her experience as a freelancer:
‘My heart breaks for those who are clearly being exploited by brands and retailers. I’ve spent over five years gaining experience as a copywriter and sometimes companies will hire me as their sole copywriter; I don’t mind but it means that everything falls to me which can be challenging sometimes as I’ll be doing other ad hoc tasks they’ve asked me to complete within a specific time frame while making sure all of the copywriting gets done before EOD, and so, I expect to get paid accordingly. I can say that I have never had any issues with any of the companies that I’ve worked for in this type of scenario – if I did, I would complain – but factory workers can’t say the same.
Just recently, I was working with one company up until late April – we had a signed contract that ended late April so even though Covid-19 had struck at this point, I expected no less than to receive what the company and I had agreed on. If they didn’t pay me, it would’ve been straight to court, no questions asked. Factory workers don’t have that option as many of them don’t even have workers rights so they can’t issue a complaint, so it’s important for us, as consumers to make sure that we voice these issues to brands who are taking liberties so factory workers don’t go without. We NEED the brands to come to their senses and do what’s right but also champion and spend our money with ethical fashion brands who clearly value their supply workers. I refuse to give my hard-earned money to brands and/or retailers who exploit their supply chain workers and use them as slave labourers and toss them to the side when they’re trying to save a buck; it’s not right and it’s not fair. It’s as simple as that.’
Bangladeshi garment manufacturer, Mostafiz Uddin wrote a piece for the Business of Fashion in March 2020 and mentioned, ‘Remember, poverty is a killer, too, and many more people die from poverty than Covid-19.’
As different countries try to rebuild from the pandemic, in the spirit of humanity, we ask you to remember factory workers; buy from ethical fashion brands and consider supporting causes who are campaigning and/or directly supporting factory workers who have their lost their job and livelihoods: