Source: VOGUE Business
As Covid-19 lockdowns took hold in March, many retailers cancelled orders, refusing payment and leaving global suppliers burdened with finished stock, an estimated $40 billion in unpaid contracts and no means to pay garment workers’ wages. After Remake’s #PayUp social media campaign recouped $22 billion of these unpaid contracts, the fashion advocacy nonprofit is launching PayUp Fashion, an actionable manifesto for the fashion industry, with garment workers taking centre stage.
A report based on a survey of 316 Bangladesh suppliers issued by Pennsylvania State University academic Mark Anner at the end of March found that half of Bangladesh suppliers had the bulk of their in-process or completed orders cancelled. Many buyers cited force majeure clauses to justify their withdrawal, despite contractual obligations to pay. Where orders were cancelled and buyers refused to cover material and production costs, 58 per cent of factories had to shut down most or all of their operations, and one million workers were furloughed or fired. Seventy-two per cent of furloughed workers were sent home without pay, while 80 per cent of dismissed workers were denied the severance pay they are legally entitled to.
PayUp Fashion was created to avoid situations like this unfolding in future. Its website details seven actions for brands and consumers, which Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat says will make the industry more sustainable for the 70 million garment workers who prop it up. Co-authored by two former garment workers, Ashila Niroshi, founder of Stand Up Lanka, and Nazma Akter, founder of the Awaj Foundation, PayUp Fashion plans to be a call to action for brands and retailers with considerable influence over the supply chain. In doing so, the initiative puts the onus on brands, not customers or garment workers, to conduct better business practices and build a more humane supply chain. But without financial incentives or benefits for taking part, PayUp Fashion hinges on the hopes that applying vocal pressure to brands, boosted by its corresponding hashtag and petition, will suffice.
“Going back to business as usual is not an option,” Barenblat says. “So how do we build back in a different way?”