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Victoria’s Secret Intervenes in Thai Workers’ 13-Month Wage Struggle

Hundreds of Thai garment workers’ 13-month battle to recover their unpaid salaries has finally come to a close.

Victoria’s Secret and Hong Kong’s Clover Group have agreed to compensate the 1,250 former workers of Brilliant Alliance Thai Global following the factory’s unexpected shutdown last March. Clover owned Brilliant until it shuttered, while Victoria’s Secret was a former customer alongside Torrid and Lane Bryant.

The $8.3 million settlement comprises wages, benefits and severance, plus 15 percent in annual interest. Brilliant, which is in the middle of bankruptcy and liquidation proceedings, previously offered to settle the debt in installment payments over 10 years. Workers’ representatives at Triumph International Thailand Labour Union rejected this, however, citing the economic hardship such a scheme would inflict while a pandemic was still raging.

The money derives in part from the personal coffers of Clover Group owners Angie and Emily Lau, who worked “ceaselessly together” with the support from Victoria’s Secret to raise the necessary funding, the company said. Sycamore Partners, which owns Lane Bryant and Torrid, did not contribute.

“As female entrepreneurs, they completely empathize with the workers and took it on themselves as their personal responsibility to fulfill the obligations of the bankrupt company,” a Clover spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.

Victoria’s Secret previously said that it did not place any orders with Brilliant in 2021 and in previous years made up only a fraction of the manufacturer’s production. Still, the lingerie giant came under tremendous activist pressure.

Earlier this year, a website called “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” featured a quote by CEO Martin Waters about his “bold ambition” to turn the lingerie giant into the “world’s biggest and best advocate for women.” The implication was obvious: If Victoria’s Secret is all about women’s empowerment, it should start with the women who need help the most.

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Workers didn’t mince words, either. “CEO Martin Waters is exploiting the workers who make clothes for Victoria’s Secret,” union president Jitnawatcharee Phanat said. “In two years he earns as much as we—more than a thousand workers—are owed in severance. We have been cheated out of our severance that we need in order to be able to take care of our kids and our parents.”

Waters, the website pointed out, earns $4.3 million a year.

The company said that it has been in “active communication” with the factory owners over several months to “facilitate a resolution” even though none of its merchandise was being produced by the factory at the time of its closure.

“We regret they were not ultimately in a position to conclude this matter on their own so to ensure the workers received their full severance amounts owed, Victoria’s Secret agreed to advance the severance funds to the factory owners,” Victoria’s Secret said.  “We are pleased to share that an agreement was reached with the worker’s representatives and [the] Thai government, and the workers have been paid all money owed to them by [Brilliant], including interest.”

“We remain deeply committed to serving as a strong corporate body and ensuring our products continue to be ethically sourced and manufactured with the highest supplier standards,” the Pink purveyor continued. “We will continue to hold ourselves and our partners accountable for the high standards we set for the fair treatment of workers.”

“This is a huge victory for the workers and a testament to the courage of their union and the strength of the international solidarity campaign that supported them,” said David Welsh, Thailand country director of the Solidarity Center, which helped negotiate the deal.

“Low-wage garment workers left destitute by injustice meted out by global supply chains is nothing new,” he added. “What’s new is they did not accept their fate—and won. We also hope this represents a model for the type of domestic, governmental, international and brand engagement to resolve future cases where garment workers are left in similarly desperate straits. It’s a historic case given the amount of the settlement and again, hopefully, a model for the global garment industry going forward in terms of direct brand involvement.”

“Our organization has documented hundreds of cases of wage theft in the apparel supply chain,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which also assisted with negotiations. “This was the largest theft—and now the most back pay—we’ve ever seen at an individual garment factory. The $8.3 million provided by Victoria’s Secret is also the most any brand has ever contributed to help resolve a wage theft case.”

Christina Hajagos-Clausen, director of textile and garment industry at IndustriALL Global Union, which supported the Brilliant workers’ campaign, hailed the decision but also said that wage theft will continue to plague the fashion supply chain until a stronger social safety net is in place.

“Through the perseverance of the workers, the Triumph union leadership and countless international actions of solidarity, a 13-month long struggle concludes with an agreement that pays the [Brilliant] workers their legal severance,” she said. “Now is the time for a global and enforceable agreement between trade unions, global brands and their suppliers on social protection.”