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Action Update: Volume 31

Action Update: Volume 31

Find out what Labour Behind the Label have been up to in our bi-annual Action Update.

This year has been a hard year for many, not least for garment workers who have been bearing the brunt of the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. In this issue we will be sharing what we have been doing in the past six months and how our work is supporting workers to claim their rights. This includes our work calling out boohoo and their poor practices in Leicester and the #PayYourWorkers campaign where we are asking Primark to tell us if they have paid their workers. We will also share our Black Friday action, news related to our current urgent appeals and our upcoming matched giving campaign where each donation up to £4k will be matched!

Read it here: Action Update: Volume 31

Report: Boohoo & COVID-19: The people behind the profit

Emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infections and fatalities.

Factories in Leicester are no stranger to illegal working conditions, with numerous reports over the years showing low pay – as little as £3 – and blatant intimidation of vulnerable workers. Now however, emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infection and fatality as some factories have remained open for production during the lockdown, whilst others are now re-opening.

Published June 2020.

UK garment brand River Island signs on to the Transparency Pledge

UK garment brand River Island signs on to the Transparency Pledge

The first out of five brands targeted in a new campaign push lead by Clean Clothes Campaign and Human Rights Watch to publish their supplier list has signed the Transparency Pledge last week.  UK garment brand River Island is committing to disclose their supply chain information according to the minimum standards laid down in the Transparency Pledge by the end of March 2020. It is now time for the other four targets of the same campaign, American Eagle Outfitter, Armani, Carrefour and Urban Outfitters, to take the same step. 

The Transparency Pledge sets a floor of what information garment companies should as a minimum disclose to the outside world about the factories they are producing in. The standard was launched in 2017 by a coalition of nine trade unions and labour rights organizations and has been further elaborated on in two reports in 2017 and 2019. After over three years of extensive outreach to apparel companies by the coalition members, River Island is the 40th company to sign the Pledge. Many other companies have shied away from signing but have in response to the outreach nevertheless taken considerable steps to become more transparent.

River Island has committed to uploading a list of its approved factories by end of March and updating this list every 6 months. The company commented: “This is an important step in driving greater transparency in the fashion industry, in order to ensure fair and safe working conditions in factories worldwide. It also enables industry collaboration to prevent serious global issues such as modern slavery.” Transparency is only a means to improve labour conditions in the garment industry rather than an end in itself, but is nevertheless of great importance to allow for better monitoring of working conditions in supply chains and access to remedy for workers.

With River Island signing on, now six UK garment and footwear companies have signed the Transparency Pledge. Besides River Island, the UK signatories are ASOS, Clark’s, New Look, Next and Pentland brands. However, considering the amount of garment and footwear brands headquartered in the UK, the industry should be doing better. Many UK brands, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Arcadia (Topshop), are close to meeting the Pledge standard and could easily take the last step. Other UK companies, including Sports Direct, Boohoo, and Missguided have thus far refused to disclose any factory information.

Action Update: Volume 29

Action Update: Volume 29

Find our what Labour Behind the Label have been up to in our bi-annual Action Update.

This issue gives you an overview of our latest campaigns to hold the garment industry to account. There is information on our sweatshop-free school uniforms campaign, calling on Trutex to operate with more transparency, a look at fast fashion giant Boohoo and poverty pay, and an update on the situation in Bangladesh and the violent repression of garment workers who protested peacefully for higher wages. There is also an update on some of our urgent appeals work, including campaigning for workers who produced for Burberry and Uniqlo to be paid the wages they are owed. 

Read it here: Action Update: Volume 29

Press release: Eliminating poverty and fighting climate change are not mutually exclusive

Press release: Eliminating poverty and fighting climate change are not mutually exclusive

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release- 31st October 2019

In a recent interview, H&M Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson warned of ‘terrible social consequences’ if consumers ditch fast fashion amid concerns about the climate crisis[1].  In his warped logic, reducing fast fashion could lead to increased poverty as jobs and economic growth would stall. Persson’s claim that reducing consumerism will threaten the elimination of poverty must be challenged.  His claims are at best misguided and at worst deceitful and fail to acknowledge the social and environmental consequences of the global garment industry.   

We do not have to choose between improving human rights in the garment industry or reducing the environmental impact. In fact, we cannot improve one without the other. Positioning environmental concerns as a threat against human rights is divisive and dangerous. The growth of the conscious consumer should be welcomed not resisted.

Fast fashion exacerbates poverty

The global garment industry is built on the exploitation of cheap labour in developing countries. It is corporate greed, rather than environmental concerns that stands in the way of poverty alleviation. Profit from fast fashion at rock-bottom prices is only possible through poverty pay, unsafe working conditions and suppression of unions.  

Whilst Persson is reportedly worth around $1.9 billion[2], an average wage for a garment worker in Bangladesh, where H&M is among the biggest garment buyers, is around is around $1000 per year [3]. In other words, a days’ salary for a worker making clothes for H&M is around $3.64. Oxfam calculated that it takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime[4]

Persson’s claim that fast fashion supports the eradication of poverty is outrageous, considering not a single worker in H&M’s supplier factories earns a living wage[5]. Last year, in response to H&M’s failure to pay a living wage, despite their widely publicised commitment that 850,000 workers would be paid a living wage by 2018, the Clean Clothes Campaign submitted a shareholder proposal for the 2018 profits to go into a living wage fund[6].  Unsurprisingly this proposal was voted down.   

Decent jobs and a living wage are required to eliminate poverty and the global garment industry is currently providing neither. The myth that low paid labour-intensive garment production is a source of economic development is a lie. Water extraction, pollution, carbon emissions and toxic chemical use alongside excessive working hours, low pay and sexual harassment are the hallmark of the garment industry.  What is needed is decent work. If fashion brands paid their workers a living wage, not only would these workers and their families have access to a decent life, but as consumers themselves they could do more to end poverty than the spread of low-cost, low-quality garment production.  

“To reduce the damage to the environment, one of the solutions is to produce less and consume less natural/raw materials and practice circular economy. H&M must pay a living wage to all garment workers producing for H&M all over the world now!”; May Wong, CCC East Asia Coalition

“Having worked in support of worker rights for over 20 years, I am not often shocked, but the callousness and deceit of these remarks take industry white-washing to a whole new level”; said Dominique Muller, Labour Behind the Label. “If H&M was really interested in eliminating poverty it must start with paying its workers a decent wage and not pretending that the throwaway fashion model will save the planet.”

 

The climate crisis affects garment workers

 The struggles against climate crisis and exploitative labour cannot be pitted against each other. They are interdependent and symbiotic, and the impact of both crises hits the same communities hardest. Climate change fuels internal migration to urban areas where many find exploitative employment in the garment industry. [7] The UN highlights that is the urban poor in the Global South, living near polluted grounds or in instable structures, who are most vulnerable to the affects of the climate crisis[8].

We need corporations to radically change business models to pay workers more, reduce production and consumption and redistribute the value chain. It is only when businesses prioritise both people and the planet before profit, that the elimination of poverty will be possible.

 

—ENDS—-

 

Notes

Amancio Ortega, founder of Inditex—the parent company of Zara—earned approximately €1.3 billion in share dividends in 2016 (about $1.37 billion). Forbes lists his fortune at $77.4 billion.

Mahmud Kamani, founder of Boohoo, the online fast fashion brand is estimated to be worth around £1 billion. In April 2017, Boohoo announced that its profits had almost doubled. Meanwhile reports continue to emerge that some UK workers producing for Boohoo in Leicester are paid an average of £3 an hour.

“It would cost $2.2 billion a year to increase the wages of all 2.5 million Vietnamese garment workers from the average wage to a living wage…This is the equivalent of a third of the amount paid out to shareholders by the top five companies in the garment sector.” (Oxfam 2018 [9])

Labour Behind the Label is the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign, which works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The CCC has national campaigns in 15 European countries with a network of 250 organisations worldwide. Please see labourbehindthelabel.organd www.cleanclothes.org for further information.

Contacts

Meg Lewis – Labour Behind the Label- 0117 954 8011 / meg@labourbehindthelabel.org
Dominique Muller – Labour Behind the Label- 07596098399/ dominique@labourbehindthelabel.org

References

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-27/h-m-ceo-sees-terrible-fallout-as-consumer-shaming-spreads

[2] https://www.forbes.com/profile/karl-johan-persson/#16eded0b2b48

[3] Based on the new minimum wage of 8000 Taka per month. https://wageindicator.org/salary/minimum-wage/bangladesh/archive/minimum-wages-in-bangladesh-with-effect-from-01-12-2018

[4] https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/file_attachments/bp-reward-work-not-wealth-220118-en.pdf

[5] http://labourbehindthelabel.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/TailoredWagesUK-FP-updated.pdf

[6] https://turnaroundhm.org/finale/

[7] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/climate-change-fuelling-migration-crisis-bangladesh/

[8] http://unhabitat.org/urban-themes/climate-change/

[9] https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year-poorest-half-humanity