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Labour Behind the Label

COVID-19: Call on brands to step up and protect the people who make their clothes

COVID-19 has reached global pandemic levels and the social and economic shockwaves are being felt across the world. At Labour Behind the Label, we are seeing garment workers lose their wages, their jobs and even their lives as a result.

After decades of poverty pay and poor working conditions, garment workers already live in precarious conditions, and the economic fallout of the pandemic is having grave consequences. 

Since the pandemic erupted, we have been working to protect those most at risk, which means both taking steps to limit exposure and ensuring that garment workers surviving on the poverty line are not pushed below it.

Crushing the workers who make our clothes

Protect all workers in supply chains

Dear Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Asda, Arcadia, ASOS & Boohoo,

COVID-19 has exposed deep inequalities embedded into global supply chains. It is vital that brands ensure that workers in their supply chains do not pay the greatest price for the pandemic. Please will you protect the workers who make your clothes by committing to:

1. Honour contracts: Brands should publicly confirm that they will not cancel orders and that they will pay originally agreed amounts on schedule. Brands should agree to requests from suppliers to extend deadlines and should not apply delay sanctions.

2. Pay wages and protect jobs: All employees and supply chain workers, who were working at the onset of the crisis, regardless of employment status should be paid their legally mandated wages and benefits, including severance payments and arrears.

3. Bailout the workers: Brands should support the capacity of employers to maintain workers’ employment and wages (including, rehiring previously dismissed workers). Brands must act ethically and work to ensure that government bailouts in producing and consumer countries financially support employees and workers in their supply chains.

4. Prioritise worker safety: Brands and suppliers that continue production must comply with World Health Organisation guidance on social distancing and PPE to prevent spread of COVID-19. This includes all retail workers, factory workers, logistics workers, warehouse and delivery workers.

5. Respect the right to refuse work: Workers who stop working due to COVID-19 risks must not be penalized. Brands should ensure that all workers in their supply chains can self-isolate or stay at home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, without risking their employment.

6. Put people before profits: Shareholders should not be getting dividends and CEOs should not be getting bonuses whilst staff and supply chain workers are going unpaid.

7. Rebuild a more equitable industry: In the aftermath of the pandemic, brands must commit to proper human rights due diligence to create more sustainable and resilient supply chains. Now is the time for brands to ensure that in the future all workers are paid a living wage, have safe and secure working conditions and access to social protection benefits.

Do let me know what you plan to do.
Yours truly,

**your signature**

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Inequalities are embedded in global supply chains, where brands gain the biggest share of profit with and carry the smallest share of risk. 

For decades, brands have wilfully profited from global supply chains which push suppliers into low-price contracts and result in precarious and low-paid employment for garment workers.

We are calling on clothing brands to meet our seven demands in their response to coronavirus.

  1. Honour contracts
  2. Pay wages and protect jobs
  3. Bailout the workers  
  4. Prioritise worker safety
  5. Respect the right to refuse work
  6. Put people before profits
  7. Rebuild a more equitable industry

The pandemic is closing in on the garment industry from several different directions, and is effectively crushing the workers who make our clothes.  Regardless of which direction the pressure comes from, garment workers are paying the highest price. 

Why should brands step up and support garment workers?

Global supply chains are designed to limit brands’ obligations to the factories where their clothes are made. Huge power imbalances mean that brands have the freedom and leverage to push costs down the chain onto their suppliers. 

As brands only pay up to three months after delivery of goods, they can cancel orders and even decline to pay for finished orders, even though factory owners have already paid for fabric and labour. In supply chains where brands call the shots, costs and risks are pushed further down the chain onto suppliers and the workers themselves. 

Most factory owners operate on narrow profit margins and lack sufficient cash reserves and access to credit to pay their workers during inactivity and survive the kind of economic shock that we are seeing from COVID-19. 

Brands have wilfully sought out production in low-wage countries with poor social security systems. Over many decades, this system has allowed brands to make huge profits, whilst garment workers are exploited.

The same system which has built huge profits for CEOs, has left garment workers living in poverty.  Workers have been unable to accumulate savings in order to sustain the current economic shock. This is why we are calling on brands to step up and protect the workers who have made them rich.

Coronavirus has exposed the deep injustices and inequalities in the garment industry, now is the time for change!

Can you support us?

The most devastating impacts of coronavirus, and subsequent economic crisis are being felt by global supply chain workers, including garment workers. We are fighting harder than ever to secure justice for workers who are at risk of being dismissed or forced to work in unsafe factories. In many ways, our work has completely shifted and our resources are being stretched. 

We need to continue to support garment workers through this pandemic but need funds to deliver it. We know that now is a tough time for many, and if that is you, we understand. But if you can donate, now is the time. We need you now more than ever.

 

Do you need our support?

If you are a textile worker and need our support, please contact us on info@labourbehindthelabel.org