In the US and Europe, retail stores are beginning to re-open their doors, but behind the scenes, it isn’t business as usual. Due to a decrease in sales caused by COVID-19, dozens of apparel brands cancelled orders with suppliers in Bangladesh as early as March. This has left over $3 billion owed to the garment workers in Bangladesh (and billions more globally), and Remake is calling on these brands to #PayUp.
An apparel company cancelling a shipment is not the same as a company saying, “Nevermind, don’t make the clothes.” In the garment industry, orders are produced two to three months before suppliers ever see payment. In the case of order cancellations caused by a constriction in retail from Covid-19, the clothing has already been made. The suppliers have already purchased materials, the factories have already completed the orders, and the workers have already spent months laboring for a paycheck that isn’t coming.
To require garment makers to work 10 to 12 hour days sewing clothing for an already low wage and then refuse to pay them what they have earned is unethical and irresponsible. The women in Bangladesh and around the globe have held up their end of the bargain, and big brands need to be held responsible for theirs.
Garment workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere rely on each paycheck to meet their immediate needs. Without access to savings or unemployment insurance, many garment makers now face food and housing insecurity. Many cannot afford medical expenses or provide for their families. Their needs are immediate.
As for the apparel companies that are claiming they will eventually pay workers: that is not enough. This empty promise provides no solution for the sudden loss income garment workers have been counting on. Garment makers may starve before they see the wages for the work they have completed.
As one garment maker, Shompa, said, “Corona will not kill us, hunger will get us first.” There is no time for these brands who claim to value the lives of black and brown women to turn a blind eye to the suffering they are causing them.
Whether you have returned to the mall or continue to shop online, don’t forget about the women who are waiting for their wages. As Walmart tank tops trend on TikTok, the women who sew them worry about feeding their children. As brands like Anthropologie and GAP welcome back customers, their outstanding bills are costing lives.
We need to hold these brands accountable. We need to stand with the women who have yet to receive the wages they have rightfully earned. We need to continue telling apparel brands to #PayUp and do the responsible thing.
Image: Claudio Montesano Casillas