On Wednesday, November 18th, 2020, the PayUp Fashion coalition held a worker-led press conference, inviting 200 global press contacts to learn more of the impact of brands and retailers purchasing practices during the second lockdown on workers, with makers and organizers zooming in to provide garment worker testimonies from Dhaka, Yangon, Los Angeles, and Colombo. The trifecta of cancellations, change in payment terms, and delays has led to wage theft, layoffs without severance, and suppliers targeting union leaders. Brands unwillingness to compromise on delivery dates has led to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Since the start of the pandemic and as we head to a second lockdown brands and retailers have squeezed on price and squeezed on lead time. This directly impacts factories finding ways to legally and illegally pay workers less and get the women who make our clothes to work harder, faster and longer hours. COVID-19 has dramatically exposed these pre-existing fragilities and inequities in the fashion supply chain.

In early 2020, numerous global garment brands and retailers were confronted with a steep and sudden drop in consumer demand, caused by the closure of retail stores as we all practiced “social distancing.” In turn, brands and retailers responded by suspending or cancelling orders with their suppliers worldwide.To further cut costs and improve cash flow, many brands refused to pay for completed orders (some already shipped) or those in mid-production, or demanded better payment terms or sharp discounts on the agreed contract price in order to accept them.

These actions by some of the industry’s largest brands showed no apparent concern for their supplier factories and the millions of women whose labor, for decades, has supported the industry and fueled its profits.

The impact has been swift and devastating: 

  • Mass unemployment with workers not getting their legally owed wages or severance
  • Women reporting housing insecurity and being trafficked
  • Workers skipping meals and becoming nutritionally deficient with some turning to suicide
  • Business shrinking also means factories can target union members.

PayUp’s relentless campaigning did get some brands to honor their contracts but many have continued to refuse paying their makers. As of July and August of 2020, brands have demanded steep price discounts, many below the cost of production. Suppliers also reported that many customers have imposed payment schedules that will require suppliers to wait additional weeks or months. Many factories report no shipment date flexibility to allow for needed social distancing adjustments within factories despite rise in COVID rates. All this comes down to power imbalance. This worker-led press conference focuses on the impact of brand behavior on the health and wellbeing of makers around the world, hearing garment worker testimonies from Los Angeles and Dhaka to Colombo and Yangon.

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