Today marks 7 years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, resulting in the death of over 1,000 garment workers and injuring 2500 more. This was a wake-up call to the reality of the corrupt fast fashion supply chain, and how garment workers are not only underpaid, but are also forced to work despite unsafe working conditions. In response to this disaster, the Fashion Revolution organization was born as a way to further spread awareness on this issue and campaign for brands to treat their factory workers fairly, and to transparently trace their entire supply chain. Although we have seen an increase in ethical and sustainable fashion in the past few years, the fashion industry still has a long way to go. The Covid-19 crisis has created a decrease in fast fashion sales, but it has had a devastating effect on garment workers around the world.
Since many stores have been forced to close their doors during this time, fast fashion sales have been plummeting and brands have cancelled or delayed many of their orders, over $4.4 billion worth of clothing. Some brands have even refused to pay for clothes that have already been made because in most cases, brands do not pay for their orders until they have been delivered. If the clothes have not been paid for, that means that the factory owners have no money to pay the people who actually made the clothes.
image via fashionunited.uk
Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, and India are among the hardest-hit countries, where millions of garment workers have been laid-off or fired due to the closing of many factories.
In many cases, these workers are already making less than a living wage at their jobs, and to lose their main source of income causes devastating effects on their lives. Many have a family to support, with children who may have been working at these factories with them to bring in more income for the family. For factories that have not closed down, workers will continue to work despite the health risks, because they desperately need some kind of income. Most workers are not covered by any kind of health insurance, and many factories a lack adequate hand-washing facilities, people work in very close quarters, and the factories are filled with dust, making workers more susceptible to contracting the virus.
image via cleanclothes.org
How can you help?
In a time where the world has seemingly come to a stand-still, my hope is that brands take this time to consider how they can do better, and improve the lives of their garment workers, and as consumers, how we can shop more consciously and responsibly, wanting to know the origin of our clothing. This is a crucial time for us to use our voices on behalf of those who don’t have a voice, to ask brands “Who made my clothes?”, urge them to pay for their cancelled orders, and to protect the people who make their clothes. “At the end of the day, consumers have the power,” says Mostafiz Uddin, owner of a Denim Expert factory in Bangladesh. “If they start to ask brands questions and boycott unsustainable retailers, our lives will be changed.” Fashion Revolution has created a simple email template that you can use to directly contact your favourite brands, asking them to pay for orders that have already been placed. You can donate through Labour Behind the Label to support garment workers, or you can also sign a petition set up by campaign group Remake, which urges brands who have not yet, to #PayUp. My hope is that when “normal” life resumes, the fashion industry will operate differently, because we all took the time to slow down and think about how this industry affects real people.