For anyone who hasn’t been following Remake’s #PayUp campaign, 16 major fashion labels are currently under fire for cancelling orders around the globe as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result of this delinquent behavior by brands, millions of unclaimed — and, in many cases, unpaid — apparel orders still remain in the possession of Bangladesh suppliers, leaving many to question what will happen to all the unwanted clothes that have now been discarded by brands.
Lost Stock is making headlines for providing a unique service that seems to be advantageous to both the consumer and the factory suppliers. The company, which is owned by Mallzee, purchases cancelled orders from factories and offers the clothes at a discount to consumers. For £35, customers receive a mystery box containing three items of clothing. All items are unbranded, and a portion of the sales from every order is donated to SAJIDA Foundation to provide a week’s worth of food and supplies to a Bangladeshi garment worker and their family.
Offering an innovative solution to the human rights and environmental crisis that is being caused as a result of brands cancelling orders, Lost Stock pays garment workers up to $94 in vouchers to avoid cash disbursement complications in Bangladesh. Lost Stock’s CEO, Cally Russell, shared with Remake that this approach “[ensures] that support gets directly to workers.” He also confirmed that Lost Stock has chosen to work with a local NGO rather than paying factories directly to make certain that workers are paid in a transparent manner.
Lost Stock also confirmed with Remake that full value of goods are provided to Bangladeshi factories and workers. Russell stated in an email to Remake that each factory receives what they would have before brand cancellations. Commendably, the company also provides vouchers to workers who have lost their jobs at factories that are not selling goods directly to Lost Stock.
The Environmental Crisis
Many Bangladeshi factories are in a dire financial situation because of cancelled and unpaid orders; however the question of where to put cancelled and excess stock is also posing its own problem for suppliers. Mostafiz Uddin, Managing Director of Denim Expert Ltd. Founder & CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, has been vocal about brands not paying up and how the lack of financial responsibility has impacted his livelihood. In an article titled “Fast fashion’s thorny question,” Uddin touches on the issue of textile waste and the problems that these unclaimed orders cause for sustainability.
“The stark reality is that in many garment production hubs, the options for up cycling, recycling, or down cycling clothing are somewhat limited,” Uddin wrote. “These are new and emerging markets in many cases. Nobody knows what will happen to the – literally – billions of garment items that will no longer be required because of Covid-19. But I fear that a sizeable amount of these items will be either incinerated or land filled.”
Adding more textile waste to the sizable mounds that already decorate landfills isn’t an ideal option, and third party resellers like Lost Stock are potentially rescuing millions of garments from the threat of landfills during this Covid-related environmental crisis.
The Problem of Accountability
However, while the mystery box aims to help garment makers and the environment, Lost Stock may pose an ethical quandary to consumers who want to ensure that brands #PayUp.
Glamour (UK) and Business Insider both reported that the box includes brands like Gap and Topshop, which remain on Remake’s PayUp list. When Remake reached out to Lost Stock about the items in the box to learn more about which brands are featured, Lost Stock responded with the following via email:
“Whilst there has been a lot of media coverage on the brands and retailers that have cancelled stock and we are buying cancelled stock — we aren’t actually naming the brands that the stock we are buying were destined for as Lost Stock packages will be made up of items from a wide range of retailers and all labels will be removed (and in most instances replaced by Lost Stock branding).”
Remake has pushed for accountability from major brands that have refused to #PayUp for cancelled orders, and over 240,000+ signatures have been added to the #PayUp petition in a fight to advocate for the garment makers not being paid for work they’ve already completed.
If the items in Lost Stock boxes include clothing made for brands that have yet to #PayUp, then consumers aren’t purchasing “lost” stock — they’re purchasing goods made from stolen labor.
Nazma Akter, Founder and Executive Director of Awaj Foundation, offered Awaj’s stance on Lost Stock, and more specifically, the ethical concerns tied to cutting out brand labels and reselling cancelled stock:
“We believe Lost Stock is not a solution for the challenges that workers are facing. By jumping in and buying the goods emerging from holding and cancellations, Lost Stock acts as a middleman without any direct business responsibilities towards workers. In spite of their having charitable goals, there is no accountability mechanism or way of negotiation with them, and they are not taking any risk or assuming any responsibility.
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Suppliers agree to sell products to them because they have no choice and it is an incredibly difficult time for them, but they will make a loss on the sales. Lost Stock didn’t buy the raw materials or pay worker wages. Workers, who are our ultimate concern, will not get the wages they are due for producing those products.
Although we often find ourselves critical of brands, at least if the product goes to their stores, we can make them accountable for the conditions in which the products are made.
However, if Lost Stock cuts the labels from these products and brings them directly to consumers, it removes that accountability and we lose our ability to connect consumers and conditions.
If people buy from a store, we can connect to them and say ‘here’s what we want to change.’ No label means no accountability.
Lost Stock is providing a good service for the consumer, who may find it appealing and get significant discounts for products, but it’s barely helpful for suppliers and it doesn’t help to improve our society. The charity hand-outs that workers receive are no replacement for the wages that they are due.”
Brands Are Still Liable
Simply put: brands need to #PayUp. Yet, the issue of the unclaimed glut of clothes remains both an environmental and an ethical dilemma. Remake reached out to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to inquire about its position regarding factories selling unclaimed orders to third parties like Lost Stock.
“Factories may be forced to clear the stocks and get rid of the liabilities as much as possible by selling the cancelled goods or disposing of through other means, to remain in existence,” the BGMEA stated in an email. “But this doesn’t warrant indemnity of a buyer from its liability, since factories may not recover the total value of goods by selling or disposing through alternate means, and there has to be a lot of other added costs due to warehousing, bank interest due to extended tenor of liability, etc.”
These additional accrued costs — the warehousing, bank interest, etc. — all add to the debts of factory owners, compiling into immense financial strain and making it even more difficult to pay workers, especially as invoices remain outstanding from brands like JCPenney, Arcadia, Primark, and Urban Outfitters.
However philanthropic Lost Stock’s mission may be, it is not a systemic resolution to the financial and ethical woes currently being endured by garment makers. Rather, it’s a bandage that’s allowing factories to catch a few drops of the bloodletting caused by brands refusing to #PayUp.
This story was updated on Monday, July 13, 2020.
Images: Mike Mozart/Flickr, Unsplash