As lockdown restrictions begin to ease in most countries, businesses open up to customers, looking to make profits after a long dry period of barely any sales since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But as daily life returns to normal for most, a dire situation has presented itself for daily wage workers behind the scenes.
American and European fast fashion brands are under the gun for failing to pay their garment workers. Ever since economies took a hit and robbed millions of their jobs worldwide, people became frugal. Soon, orders began drying up. Multi-million dollar brands reneged payments en masse to wholesale retailers and garment workers.
Orders worth almost $3 billion were canceled, putting 4.1 million workers from Bangladesh, who account for over 80% of the country’s economy, in grievous circumstances. The workers were laid off due to lack of work, with no severance pay. The grossly underpaid daily wage workers, earning a meager $96 per month for their hard work, are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic, with little to no measures of safety and hygiene in factories and gruelling working hours. Starvation poses a bigger threat to these desperate workers than the virus.
Along with cancelling orders to dodge payment for already produced goods, brands such as TopShop, Gap, Urban Outfitters, Tesco, Mothercare, Walmart, Kohl's, JCPenney, ASOS and American Eagle have refused to pay suppliers for already purchased raw materials, adding to their misery.
While some brands like H&M, Marks and Spencer, Target, Zara and Adidas promised to pay their dues as soon as possible, Debenhams requested a 90% discount on already produced orders. Meanwhile Gap and Topshop have made no comment and refused to partake in surveys to estimate the losses. Almost 2 million workers in Bangladesh and 20,000 in Myanmar have already lost their jobs, while 200,000 in Cambodia and 1 million in Pakistan risk unemployment if their salaries go unpaid any longer.
Manufacturing associations in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh are appealing to buyers to honor the terms of their contract in these trying times. However brands are calling on the governments of these countries to support their workers. But cheap labor in these countries comes with minimal social protections.
The pandemic has exposed yet another exacerbating facet of the fast fashion industry, wherein the financial burden of the crisis has been shifted onto the weak and vulnerable laborers that make up the backbone of any business in an effort to minimize their losses.
It would be an investment in its future for companies to support and make amends for the years of exploitation and injustice of workers for its own profit.