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Time for fashion industry to #PayUp

Time for fashion industry to #PayUp

Time for fashion industry to #PayUp
July 21
12:18 2020

With the world coming to a halt during the pandemic, the fashion industry has struggled with the full-stop on clothing processing and production since March. 

As a safety precaution, fashion brands halted production in their garment factories and supply chains to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the resurgence of the #PayUp campaign has disrupted the silence of the fashion industry. 

The campaign seeks “brands pay for in-production and completed orders in full and on-time, including fabric that factories have already paid for, rather than abandon their supply chain partners and the women who have kept their businesses profitable for decades,” according to a statement from the #PayUp coalition of labor rights groups.

The inaction of international brands to make a difference within their companies, particularly their supply chains during the pandemic, only pulls back the curtain on capitalism’s little secret: companies don’t care about their employees, only profits and public images.

It’s time for brands to take responsibility for themselves and pay their employees working in garment factories in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Pakistan and Myanmar, rather than throwing the millions of female workers under the so-called economic bus. 

The #PayUp campaign first emerged after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which resulted in the death of 1,134 people and injured 2,500 more, according to a report from the International Labour Organization. The building collapse forced international brands to take responsibility for their supply chains, working conditions and the lack of safety measures for their employees. 

Rana Plaza housed five garment factories for global clothing brands including Benetton, Bonmarche, Cato Fashions, The Children’s Place, El Corte Ingles, Joe Fresh, Kik, Mango, Matalan, Primark and Texman, according to a report from the Clean Clothes Campaign. 

Structural cracks were discovered the day prior to the building’s collapse on April 24, 2013, leading to the lower floors closing, but garment factory owners ignored the warnings and allowed production to continue the following day on the upper floors of Rana Plaza. 

Many victims and survivors were trapped beneath tons of rubble and machinery before being rescued in the hours or days after the building collapse. Survivors and families of those killed in Rana Plaza were awarded $30 million in compensation, according to a 2019 report from the University of Sussex

Years later, the hashtag has made a comeback on social media after Remake, a non-profit organization dedicated to ethical fashion, claimed Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s clothing company Kendall + Kylie failed to pay their Bangladeshi workers for canceled orders in February and March, according to a 2020 article from The Independent

Many brands, as a direct result of COVID-19, have refused to complete or accept new orders, demanded high fees on completed orders and penalized production delays since March, putting an estimated $3 billion on hold of completed or in-process orders, according to a 2020 article from The Daily Star

In Bangladesh, these cancellations and closures have forced many workers into poverty, poor working conditions and pay cuts. With 84 percent of the country’s export revenue coming from the garment industry, the Bangladesh government has pushed “Western retailers to restore orders that have been canceled or suspended,” according to a 2020 article from NPR

Activists and non-profit organizations are using the #PayUp hashtag to call attention to the major brands who have or haven’t made commitments to pay for orders with data trackers and petitions. Despite both the actions of government officials and activists, 15 companies have not made any commitment to pay their end of the bargain. 

These companies include Gap, JCPenny, Kohl’s, Primark, Ross Stores, Sears, Urban Outfitters and Wal-Mart as well as brands owned by the listed company, according to data from the Worker Rights Consortium COVID-19 tracker

During the #BlackLivesMatter protests, fashion brands attempted to show their solidarity with the Black community, but activists pointed out the hypocrisy of supporting a civil rights movement while brands were actively the perpetrators of gender and economic inequality in their international garment factories. 

This lack of accountability toward their own company only solidifies that companies don’t actually care about their employees at any level of their company other than the individuals at the very top making seven-figure salaries. 

If we’re to move towards ethical fashion and business practices, holding these companies and brands accountable for their inaction is only the first step. Similarly to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, the Rana Plaza paved the way for better working conditions, employee safety and closing the gender wage gap in Bangladesh and other nations, but it’s only the beginning. Companies must be held responsible for their inaction and hypocrisy if we’re to crush the gender wage gap, economic and racial inequality and poor business practices in countries Western retailers outsource to. 

Companies pushing their economic fallout onto the livelihoods of garment workers will only worsen the eventual economic depression the world is heading toward after the pandemic. Time to open your purses, corporate America. 

Featured Illustration: Srinidhi Shukla

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Sarah Berg

Sarah Berg

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