AMSTERDAM – A coalition of more than 200 organisations has announced sweeping demands of apparel brands and retailers, requesting that they pay cash relief for struggling garment workers and “reform of the industry.” The #PayYourWorkers campaign brings together more than 200 unions and civil society groups from over 40 countries to demand that brands provide immediate relief to garment workers and “make enforceable commitments to reform their broken industry.”
With the website, the coalition is launching a petition, urging brands and retailers to live up to their responsibility to contribute funds to sustain workers’ income throughout the pandemic, respect the right to organise and bargain collectively, and sign a negotiated severance guarantee fund.
Said a statement by Clean Clothes Campaign: “Millions of garment workers have been struggling to feed their families since brands abandoned them last March. Brands and retailers responded to the crisis by refusing to pay their bills and using the decreased demand for clothing to extract even lower prices from suppliers. Garment workers around the world have faced a widespread loss of jobs and income, forcing many deeper into poverty and hunger. A year into the crisis, many brands have returned to profitability and some have even raked in record level earnings, while workers in their supply chains struggle to survive.”
Sophorn Yang, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions said: “Workers in Cambodia lost millions of dollars in wages during the pandemic because of brands’ actions. It’s time for brands to recognise the crucial position they hold in garment and footwear supply chains and take responsibility for the wages of workers who make them billions of dollars in profits year after year.”
PayYourWorkers.org – the campaign website – is available in 8 languages. The 200 endorsing organisations include grassroots worker unions like Garment Labour Union in India, major trade union federations, including UNI Global union, and international organizations and networks such as Oxfam and Clean Clothes Campaign.
Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union in Sri Lanka, has called for broad support for the campaign: “Sri Lankan apparel sector employers haven’t paid their employees’ full wages and bonuses and have withdrawn transport and food support during the first wave in March to May 2020. According to our calculation, garment employees are owed at least USD 24 million only for that period. About 200,000 employees lost their jobs without receiving the compensation they are entitled to. In the meantime, apparel export numbers have hardly gone down. Brands and suppliers must take responsibility and pay back the apparel sector employees what they are owed.”
Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign says: “We have calculated that it would take just ten cents per t-shirt for fashion brands to make sure garment workers can at least survive the pandemic, and to strengthen unemployment protections for the future. This is the minimum brands should do on the way to the living wages which must become the standard of a post-pandemic recovery. This proposal is achievable, and brands and retailers who say it is not are putting profits before the well-being of their workers.”