Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, business-as-usual has collapsed throughout the fashion industry. With retail shops closed and online sales slowed by the global economic downturn, fashion brands are in trouble. Yet, as is too often the case in times of crisis, many of the hardships of this pandemic have fallen on the most vulnerable members of the supply chain: the workers. Brands have been seen cancelling their orders from factories and suppliers, withholding payments of finished and in-production goods, and even demanding discounts, as factories in some countries are reopening their operations.
In March, estimates suggested that around $1.44 Billion USD worth of payments had been cancelled or withheld by brands in Bangladesh alone. Research from Traidcraft Exchange also notes that the economic circumstances of most producing countries render them unable to support large populations of unemployed workers, and lack the healthcare infrastructure to care for the infected. They argue that the consequences of Covid-19 unveil a fashion system already reliant on widespread exploitation and an imbalance of power between big brands and developing economies.
Give money directly to non-profit organisations that are providing support to garment makers that have lost their jobs. We recommend giving money to:
AWAJ Foundation — A non-profit organisation founded and led by garment workers in Bangladesh that provides support to over 740,000 workers. This includes legal aid, healthcare, union organising, labour rights training and industry and policy advocacy. Donations will go directly to workers who have lost their jobs. This will mainly be in the form of cash disbursements to make sure that their basic needs for food and shelter are met. If you would like to make a contribution then please write to: email@example.com.
The Garment Worker Centre — A non-profit organising and community space in Los Angeles that supports tens of thousands of low paid garment workers, especially immigrant and undocumented workers, women of colour, and their families. 100 of their worker members have sounded the alarm bell about losing their jobs and reduced hours due to COVID-19 as well as lack of hygienic conditions in the factories that are still operating, many now making PPE. You can donate here: https://garmentworkercenter.org/
GoodWeave International — An non-profit organisation working to end forced and child labour in global supply chains. They have launched the COVID-19 Child and Worker Protection Fund to deliver immediate humanitarian aid and services to vulnerable populations in India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Money raised will pay for the delivery of food and resources to workers and their children. Donate here.
The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) has launched the #StayHomeLiveFair campaign to support its global network of workers, farmers, artisans and communities during the crisis. You can support by visiting their webshop and supporting their members’ crowdfunding efforts, here.
CARE, the global social justice NGO, has been working in the garment industry for over 20 years and is focussing on protecting and supporting the rights and needs of women and girls during the pandemic. CARE’s Emergency Surge Fund is matching all donations and using funds to urgently provide families with hygienic masks, hand washing stations and hygiene kits. Donate here.
FEMNET is providing emergency aid for women across India and Bangladesh through direct aid partnership that provide meals and rent support for textile and garment workers. Learn more here.
Netherlands-based NGO, Arisa, is fundraising to directly support migrant workers in India in the mining and clothing & textile sectors to ensure that vulnerable people who may be out of work get the support they need. Learn more here.
Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka are raising funds to support jobless workers during the pandemic. Support the GoFundMe here.
Support Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity in providing food along with hand sanitiser and protective equipment to garment workers in Bangladesh. Give to the GoFundMe here.
Donate to Fashion Revolution so that we can continue asking brands the tough questions and mobilising citizens to campaign for a fashion industry that respects workers and protects our planet, and continue to amplify the stories of garment workers around the world.
As the world faces this pandemic in unified isolation, we at Fashion Revolution aim to put the focus on how the unfolding situation is affecting the people who make our clothes. Retailers are shutting their doors around the world, encouraging their customers to shop online instead. Yet the reality is that as we are forced to stay in our homes, many of us are financially burdened by layoffs or new childcare responsibilities, and the desire to buy new clothes feels like a distant dream.
For Fashion Revolutionaries, this unique set of circumstances can hopefully bring about the #LovedClothesLast movement that we have been pushing for many years. Given the level of clothing overproduction that preceded this crisis, we hope that our days indoors can bring about revolutions in caring for our clothes better, mending and making clothing, and adopting a mindset of longevity when it comes to our wardrobes.
While we have been encouraging an end to overconsumption for many years, we also know that in the face of this unexpected halt in manufacturing, it is the most vulnerable, lowest paid people in the fashion supply chain that feel the worst effects. IndustriALL, the global trade union which strives to give workers around the world a voice, says that millions of garment makers have already lost their jobs as a result of the virus and have no access to social or financial safety nets to help them weather this storm.
In the global fashion industry, brands typically pay their suppliers weeks or even months after delivery, rather than upon order. This means that suppliers usually pay upfront for the materials or fibres used to make the products brand buy from them.
In response to the pandemic, many major fashion brands and retailers are cancelling orders and stopping payments for orders already placed, even when the work has already been done, taking no responsibility for the impact this has on the people working in their supply chains. Factories are left with little choice but to destroy or keep hold of unwanted goods already made, and lay off their workers in droves.
Bloomberg reported in March that about 1,089 garment factories in Bangladesh have had orders cancelled worth roughly $1.44 billion due to the coronavirus outbreak. Also in March, the AWAJ Foundation reported that many factories in Bangladesh were shut down indefinitely. Some workers were given less than a month’s salary as severance and many others have received nothing at all. Nazma Akter the executive director of AWAJ explains, “These workers now don’t know how they will take care of their families in the coming days – how they will manage costs for food, rent and other necessities. They can’t even imagine what they’ll do if they or a family member needs medical treatment for Covid-19. The meager income these workers earned was barely enough to cover their living costs, and as a result, they have little to no savings set aside to deal with a crisis such as this.” Meanwhile, Labour Behind the Label estimates that 10% of factories in Yangon, Myanmar are now closed.
On the other side of the world a similar situation is unfolding. The Garment Worker Center describes how garment makers in Los Angeles are often not eligible for unemployment benefits. This is partly because the underground nature of the industry, such as “off the books” work, makes applying for paid family leave or disability insurance uniquely challenging in the face of the pandemic.
IndustriALL reports that while many fashion brands are offering compensation packages for retail and office workers who face layoffs due to this crisis, they are failing to protect the workers in their supply chains who are also suffering from the loss of income. Furthermore, the Solidarity Center believes that the inability to meet together in-person will inhibit workers’ abilities to unionise and collectively bargain for their rights.
Of course, fashion isn’t just created in factories. Fashion is craft, artisanship and things that are often made by hand in informal environments. According to the Artisan Alliance, artisanal craft is the second largest source of employment across the so-called developing world. WIEGO estimates there are around two billion informal workers around the world that lack basic labour, social and health protections. As a result of Covid-19 threatening global trade flows, workers cooperatives, artisan groups, local crafts-based communities, home-based workers, agricultural workers and farmers face desperate economic circumstances.
As many countries begin to navigate the reopening of their economies, questions remain in how garment workers will be protected from infection. In a recent BoF podcast, Bangladesh labour campaigner, Kalpona Akter cited transportation to work, close working quarters and lack of protective equipment as major barriers to worker safety as factories reopen. While governments in producing countries may request that factories operate at lower capacity, space workers further apart, and supply them with masks and gloves, the burden of these requirements cannot be financially undertaken by factories while the big brands place new orders and demand discounts. Brands, the most powerful players in the value chain, urgently need to support the workers whose livelihoods have been compromised by crisis.
At Fashion Revolution, we have always tried to be honest with our community about the problems that persist within the global fashion industry. Having formed in response to major human catastrophe – the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 – we are no strangers to exploitation or disparity within the industry. But we have been, and will continue to be, focussed on solutions, and dedicated to finding ways for citizens around the world to make a positive difference. We’ve already seen several visionaries within the fashion industry pose the question: what kind of world do we want to see emerge after this crisis is over? For us, the answer lies in our Manifesto for a Fashion Revolution, and we’ll be spending the next months (and years) mobilising our community to take action to build this future of fashion.
Meanwhile, in this current crisis, we believe that our capacity for empathy is strengthened by our shared global experience. While we may be stuck indoors, by using social media, our voices can still be amplified, especially when we speak up together. That’s why we’re asking our global community to be louder than ever. To ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? and demand that fashion brands protect the workers in their supply chain just as they would their own employees, especially during this unprecedented global health and economic crisis.
If we do nothing, the fashion industry will simply return to business as usual when this is all over. Instead, let’s come together as a revolution and build a new system that values the wellbeing of people and planet over profit. This means that right now we should stand together to protect and support the people who make our clothes.
As Wangari Maathai said in her famous 2004 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.“
Explore the campaign from our Fashion Revolution Germany team about an industry in crisis.VISIT
Read the blog post from Fairtrade India outlining the pandemic's impact on cotton farmers in rural India.READ
Learn more about the workers in Bangladesh's shadow economy in the wake of crisis.READ
Employers, workers and major brands join with ILO to support the garment industry.VISIT
Discover how this year's Fashion Transparency Index addresses brands in crisis.READ
Listen to the workers' rights campaigner outline the challenges for workers in Bangladesh.LISTEN
Send a letter to UK fashion brands demanding orders are paid for and workers are protected.VISIT
Urge the big Australian fashion brands to take accountability for their supply chains.VISIT