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Global brands deny responsibility to sewing workers

FASHION

Image: Demonstrations in Sri Lanka, courtesy of AFWA.

Eight years after the Rana Plaza disaster, the world's leading fashion companies have yet to agree to renew their long-term security agreement in Bangladesh. techsupportreviews   Yet, for all the potential benefits, companies like Zara and H&M are held back by their direct responsibilities. So far, only five of the original signers have signed, and the deadline is August 31st.

Brands' indecision over participation has highlighted supplier responsibilities in other parts of Asia, where an ambitious labor rights group is trying to hold global brands accountable for alleged rights violations during the pandemic.

Stealing wages

In a report first published by the British newspaper The Guardian, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is suing global fashion companies, including H&M and Levi's, for “stealing wages” of supply chain workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

H&M is cited in connection with alleged abuses in the world of work in 2020 at a supplier plant, where AFWA claims the brand "has complete economic control over workers' livelihoods, skills and continuity of employment."

The AFWA report claims that most garment workers in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Cambodia and Bangladesh have lost money they were legally entitled to. He argues that the businesses these workers employ do not act as independent suppliers, but as contract manufacturers, and that brands receiving supplies from them should be treated as joint employers and held accountable.

The devastating effect of Covid-19 on vestment workers

In a report entitled “The Money Robbery,” the author asks whether the loss of income suffered by garment workers should be classified as theft of wages by the brands for which they manufacture the garments. AFWA explains that in the current situation, garment workers are working to produce clothing for various brands in the Global North. However, these brands do not use them directly. Rather, workers are hired by suppliers from across the Global South. However, these suppliers are not independent manufacturers who manufacture the garment and sell it to the global market. They are more like contract manufacturers. They manufacture clothing according to the designs and specifications provided by the brands.

Billionaire brands fall short

AFWA argues that if brands are the primary employers for supplier factory workers, they should be responsible for supporting suppliers and their workers during a recession, taking steps to maintain the value of their shares, including through buybacks. action. However, the brands have refused to take on or share any responsibility with suppliers or their employees.

At the start of the pandemic, some brands refused to pay suppliers for orders already delivered, a move they only abandoned after international media coverage threatened to damage their reputation. This had a domino effect, as some suppliers did not pay workers' wages. Contractors even turned off their phones to prevent workers from demanding payment, according to the report.

AFWA argues that business risks have shifted to suppliers in the global South and, in turn, to their workers. While supplier owners were likely able to cover their savings, workers 'incomes were even below the poverty line, and women workers' incomes were even below this threshold.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed an undeniable truth about extreme labor exploitation, which is an important feature of global apparel supply chains. The humanitarian crisis hitting garment workers in Asia due to the recession caused by the pandemic was neither unexpected nor inevitable. Rather, it was a direct moment of the actions of global clothing brands located in the Global North, which reap the profits from exploiting workers in "an uneven system of regional and national development, [and] an uneven and segmented labor souk."

Currently, the the minimum wage in producing realms is set at an extremely low level, which does not cover the cost of living, which, according to the Asian Alliance of the minimum wage, is at least three times.

Brands must be held accountable

Accountability deficiencies in the current structure of global apparel supply chains have precluded the agency of workers and their unions to hold brands accountable. AFWA wants to reestablish this agency, bring unions into direct contact with brands, and claim responsibility within the jurisdictional scope of their countries.

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