In March 2020, Remake launched the #PayUp campaign after the fashion industry’s catastrophic decision to refuse payment for completed clothing orders heading into the COVID-19 pandemic. When retail stores were shuttered and fashion sales were in free-fall in March of 2020, dozens of global brands refused to pay for an estimated $40 billion worth of finished goods that garment workers had spent countless hours sewing. Millions of garment workers were laid off globally without pay as a direct result of the cancellations, sending them into the gravest economic crisis of our lifetimes without their paychecks or any savings.
The #PayUp campaign originally began with a Change.org petition that, strengthened by the power of social media, went viral over the summer of 2020. Citizens all around the world used the #PayUp hashtag and the original petition acquired 272,240 signatures (an additional 18,250 signatures were collected in later interaction of the petition). As Remake educated the public on the dire situation of vulnerable garment workers around the world, the campaign went viral, and the mounting public outcry led to over 25 brands paying back factories for canceled orders. From this, $22 billion dollars was unlocked of the original $40 billion. The campaign’s success was a direct result of the public’s engagement in signing the petition, firing off a #PayUp tweet, and flooding the Instagram accounts of brand offenders. The #PayUp movement helped stop what many have referred to as “the biggest heist in fashion’s history.”
In parallel with the success of the #PayUp campaign, Remake worked to build a global coalition of garment workers, experienced labor rights groups, NGOs, and fashion activists to form a global coalition that would partner on a roadmap for the future of fashion.
Thus, the PayUp Fashion coalition was born.
To date, this coalition continues to meet on a monthly basis to address major concerns and injustices occurring in the clothing industry. This coalition was founded by Remake’s founder, Ayesha Barenblat, and is currently led by Remake’s Director of Advocacy and Policy, Elizabeth Cline. It continues to grow in members as it fights for basic human rights and economic justice for garment workers.
Our SEven ACtions
In the months after the pandemic began, it was obvious that there was an urgent need to build the clothing industry back better, assuring a future of fashion that centers workers, citizens and the planet. To address this, the PayUp Fashion coalition created a roadmap to long-term change in the industry, aiming at systemic reform to advance labor rights via the following seven actions:
1) #PayUp. Fashion brands and retailers must honor contracts with factories and #PayUp for all orders completed and in production or millions of garment makers will go hungry.
2) Keep Workers Safe. The fashion industry must protect garment workers’ basic human rights and labor rights at all times. According to the Worker Rights Consortium, millions of garment workers have lost jobs, wages in some nations have fallen 21% on average, and nearly one-in-four have not received legally-mandated pay and severance during the pandemic. Most garment workers toil in countries without a social safety net and far too many still work in factories that are physically unsafe. With many brands returning to profitability by the end of 2020, we demand that brands share their profits and do their part to protect fashion’s most essential workers.
3) Go Transparent. Without transparency, raising standards and sustainability in fashion will remain illusive and human and labor rights abuses will persist under the cloak of darkness and secrecy. While some brands have moved towards publishing their supplier list, this is just a first step towards true transparency. Brands and retailers will not only immediately commit to providing annual data on where their clothes are made, but will also reveal how much workers are paid and treated in an easily accessible and public format.
4) Give Workers Center Stage. There will be no more brand-led and brand-funded conversations about worker rights. Workers are their own best advocates. We want to see a year-over-year increase in unionized factories in brand supply chains. What’s more, any brand-funded major coalitions, organizations, and conferences shaping the future of fashion must ensure fair representation of women worker voices.
5) Sign Enforceable Contracts. Unenforceable agreements and voluntary codes of conduct written by brands and imposed on suppliers protect retailers, executives and shareholders while pushing risk onto already vulnerable garment and supply chain workers. The industry must commit to enforceable, legally-binding contracts and agreements that put workers first and address the power imbalance in fashion that pushes financial risk onto suppliers and thus human rights and labor rights abuses onto workers. Under such agreements, mechanisms must be in place for workers to hold retailers and brands accountable and center workers as beneficiaries.
6) End Starvation Wages. Garment workers make rock-bottom wages and are on the brink of starvation and homelessness, while brands shore up millions for shareholders and executives. Studies confirm that brands cause poverty wages by paying low prices to factories. Companies must publicly commit to paying prices that lift workers out of poverty.
7) Help Pass Laws. A quarter-century of voluntary efforts to reform the fashion industry have been ineffective. Brands and retailers must support rather than thwart the work of citizens and government to reform corporate power, labor laws, and trade deals.
Post COVID-19, returning to business as usual is not an option. Our planet cannot sustain fashion’s hyper-growth and disposable consumption model at the cost of workers and our planet. It’s time for a new paradigm. The only future for the fashion industry is a sustainable, inclusive, and economically empowered one. These are not new or disputed goals. But they can no longer wait.
None of these demands are radical and there is a broad consensus surrounding them. While brands and retailers say that protecting human rights and providing good jobs in the supply chain is complicated, we think it’s achievable in the near-term by meeting these seven actions.