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If Brands Won’t Support Garment Workers, Maybe Consumers Will

Labor advocates have launched a direct relief fund for garment workers across the globe who are experiencing growing food insecurity and hunger amid the worsening economic impacts of the pandemic.

Remake, the grassroots group behind the #PayUp social media campaign, says 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward emergency food and medical relief through frontline nonprofits such as Stand Up Movement Lanka in Sri Lanka, Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh and the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles. More organizations, it adds, will be onboarded in the coming weeks.

The move comes nearly a year after the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic and brands scrambled to suspend or cancel in-progress and completed clothing orders. Though Remake has lobbied retailers such as Gap, Nike and Levi Strauss to commit to paying in full for orders placed before the crisis, unlocking some $22 billion in owed bills, dozens more have refused to engage, “forcing suppliers to lay off workers without a safety net,” it said.

Remake is also urging brands that have already paid up and continue to reap profits during the pandemic, including Adidas, Amazon, Asos, H&M, Inditex, Primark and Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, to go further by not only ensuring that 1 percent of their net revenue is earmarked for garment worker relief but also placing 10 cents more per unit of apparel into a severance guarantee fund.

But time is now “of the essence,” Remake said, which hoping to raise at least $10,000 through GoFundMe.

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“Last year, #PayUp Fashion raised over $40k for garment workers through various crowdfunding campaigns so we’re hoping we can do that again—but on a larger scale!” it said in a statement. “Through this fundraising effort, we’re calling on citizens to do what brands are refusing to do: Support garment workers.”

A December study by the Worker Rights Consortium with 400 garment workers from 158 factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Lesotho and Myanmar found that 20 percent of respondents described experiencing hunger on a daily basis since the beginning of the pandemic, while another 34 percent said they struggled with the same at least once a week.

More than 70 percent of garment workers said that they or a member of their household has gone hungry since early March. The vast majority—88 percent—reported that their contracted incomes have forced them to eat less. Out of respondents with dependent minors, 80 percent confessed to skipping meals or reducing the amount of food they ate so they could feed their children. Another 80 percent of respondents said they anticipate further reducing the amount of food they eat or purchase for their family if their financial situations don’t improve.

In August, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the apparel sector’s largest alliance of labor unions and non-governmental organizations, published an analysis about the Covid-19 cuts that have left millions of workers with partial wages or no wages at all. Garment workers in South and Southeast Asia, it estimated, received 38 percent less than their regular income for the months of March, April and May, with the number surpassing 50 percent in some parts of India. Through the process of extrapolation, the CCC calculated that garment workers worldwide—excluding those in countries, such as China, with better government measures to bridge wage gaps—were stripped of between $3.19 billion to $5.79 billion in those three months alone.

The organization continues to urge brands to create a “wage assurance fund” to ensure that all workers making and handling clothes in their supply chains receive the full wages they are owed in accordance with labor laws and international standards.

“As these workers were already living on poverty wages, they had not been able to save anything before the pandemic hit,” Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation in Pakistan, said at the time. “The wage gaps caused by the crisis mean that workers are not able to feed their families properly; they are not able to pay for school fees of their children or pay for medical expenses, and many of them are in debt.”