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Labour Behind the Label

How are brands protecting supply chain workers during COVID-19?

We are calling on the five biggest retailers, and two biggest e-retailers in the UK, to protect the workers in their supply chains during COVID-19. We believe that these brands have the power to act responsibly and change the direction of all UK brands.

Some of the brands that we are targeting in our petition are already starting to respond to pressure and take steps to minimise the harmful impacts of COVD-19 on garment workers. This shows that solidarity works!

Whilst some brands are now honouring their existing orders, none have met all seven demands aimed at protecting garment workers. 

Taking steps in the right direction

Marks and Spencer

March 2020: It was reported that Marks & Spencer initially made the decision to cancel £100m in clothing orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Campaign update: Following pressure from labour rights groups, Marks and Spencer have since agreed to receive and pay for placed orders with their suppliers.

Next steps: We are calling on Marks and Spencer to ensure that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

NEXT

March 2020: NEXT initially moved to delay or cancel any orders with an ex-factory date after 10 April 2020.   

Campaign update: In a letter to its suppliers in late March 2020, NEXT committed to honour and pay them in full, on normal payment terms, for orders that were due to leave supplier factories up to and including 10 April 2020.  NEXT reports it has not applied any retrospective discounts to its suppliers.

Contracts that had an ex-factory date after 10 April 2020 were either: delivered to NEXT on normal payment terms as originally planned; delivered to NEXT on normal payment terms, but at a date later than originally planned or cancelled with compensation to the supplier from NEXT to help cover the cost of fabric or similar components.

Next steps: We are calling on NEXT to ensure that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

ASOS

March 2020: It was reported that ASOS refused shipment for orders from third-party brands and suppliers. As brands only pay on shipment, this would mean that losses were pushed on to suppliers. In addition, more than 98% of more than 460 workers who took part in a survey carried out by GMB union said they felt unsafe at the group’s warehouse.

Campaign update: ASOS has been working with their own-brand suppliers to reduce the volume of cancellations and reinstate orders. They have now committed to paying in full for all made orders that they had previously cancelled, see more details on this statement. They have made a public commitment to pay suppliers to agreed payment terms. They have also published a statement detailing safety guidance for their logistics staff in UK warehouses.

Next steps: We are calling on ASOS to ensure that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

Not doing enough to protect workers in supply chains

Primark

March 2020: Primark initially announced the cancellation of all orders in production, provoking widespread criticism.

Campaign update: In response to the criticism, Primark announced a fund to help pay workers in their supply chains for one month, given that they still refused to pay for raw materials or production costs, this move did not support suppliers to stay afloat and would not have helped to secure workers jobs. There were also no details as to how this money would be given to workers and when.  Following ongoing pressure from labour rights groups, Primark has now announced that they will pay for all goods already handed over prior to the cancellation notice of 18 March. Payment will be subject to the normal Primark Terms and Conditions and will be paid for within the normal 30-day payment terms.

In our latest correspondence (15th July) with Primark confirmed that they have now taken all orders both finished and in production planned for handover by the 17 April and will be paying for these in full on the usual 30-day payment terms. In terms of future orders, which Primark would not have anticipated to have been in production, these were cancelled on the 18 March, but as shops re-open, Primark is now placing orders again with our suppliers and will soon be in a position to increase commitments to suppliers.

Ongoing concerns:

No information was given as to exactly how many or what the total cost of the cancelled orders was. Primark also said that they are not aware of any of their suppliers’ factories that have failed to pay wages owed.  However, should they be made aware of any issues, they will investigate and where action is required, they will follow up and remediate. 

We will continue to follow up on any new details and cases where orders have been cancelled and workers unpaid.

On the surface it seems like Primark are honouring their orders – in fact not only are they delaying payments to suppliers for completed orders for up to six months but payment could take even longer as they are blocking delivery! This is not acceptable and does nothing to support suppliers pay workers wages!

What next: Primark must do better and pay up for orders in a reasonable time period. Revised shipment deadlines should take into consideration occupational safety and health requirements, in terms of worker safety and storage solutions for completed goods which could pose a fire risk in factories.  We are also calling on Primark to commit to ensuring that any government support will be prioritised for workers as well as commitments to ensuring that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

Putting workers in supply chain at risk

Asda

March 2020: Asda cancelled a quarter of orders with clothing suppliers. In addition, they announced they would only pay a fraction of costs for these cancelled orders- 30% of the order value for those that have not yet been finished, and 50%  for those that have. This is despite Asda seeing record food sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next steps: We need to continue to put pressure on Asda to pay for the orders that they have already placed and pay the originally agreed amounts to the original terms. We are also calling on Asda to commit to ensuring that any government support will be prioritised for workers as well as commitments to ensuring that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

Arcadia

March 2020: Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, is estimated to have cancelled in excess of £100 million of orders, including clothing that has already been made but not yet shipped. In a further move, Arcadia is demanding a 30% discount on goods that were already in transit on 17th March 2020.

Campaign update: We have heard reports that Arcadia may have furloughed all or most of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team – allowing these critical decisions on worker livelihoods to be led by other departments.  Is this a sign of Arcadia’s lack of genuine commitment to ethical trading?

 

Next steps: Arcadia have defended their decision to cancel existing orders and demand discounts on goods already shipped. Arcadia must pay for the orders that they have already placed and pay the originally agreed amounts to the original terms. We are also calling on Arcadia to commit to ensuring that any government support will be prioritised for workers as well as commitments to ensuring that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.

Boohoo

March 2020: There were reports that Boohoo workers feared for their safety as they were still required to work. Boohoo continued training online and increased sales by 45% over the lockdown.

Campaign update: In June 2020, we published a report into conditions in Boohoos supply chain. According to workers reports, there has been a failure to protect Leicester-based workers during the UK lockdown. Workers report being told to continue working in the factories despite testing positive for COVID-19. There are also allegations of furlough fraud, wage theft and illegally low wages.  

Download the report here >>

Next steps: We are calling on Boohoo to put their workers before their profits. Brands that continue to operate must comply with World Health Organisation guidance on social distancing and PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Workers who stop working due to COVID-19 risks should not be penalised and Boohoo should ensure that all workers can stay at home if they have systems, without risking their wages or their employment. We are also calling on Boohoo to commit to ensuring that any government support will be prioritised for workers as well as commitments to ensuring that the unequal and unethical practices of the global garment industry will be adapted to ensure that going forward, workers in production countries will be afforded greater resilience to the negative effects of similar events.