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Clothing news Jan/Feb 2021 

All the latest in the clothing industry, from worsening conditions for sweatshop workers due to COVID to updates on the Ali Enterprise garment factory fire in Pakistan.

Fashion brands still not paying suppliers

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has surveyed 50 fashion brands on whether they have taken action to protect workers in their supply chains during the pandemic.

Many clothing brands have responded to the pandemic by refusing or delaying payments to suppliers, putting garment workers across the world at serious risk. There have been ongoing campaigns calling on them to ‘pay-up’.

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Senior Labour Rights Lead, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said:

“We are long past the time when a ‘we’ve-not-had-time-to-prepare’ defence will wash [...] Our findings show the fashion industry thinks it can continue with a ‘business-as-usual' approach, sticking to the same policies and practices they used before the pandemic.

But what garment workers are facing is nothing short of complete upheaval and crisis. For workers, already paid so little, to lose their jobs or not receive a full wage is the difference between feeding your family or not.”

Garment workers lost US$5.8 billion in wages from March to May, the Clean Clothes Campaign said.

What the tracker shows

The tracker shows that nine out of twenty-nine companies that recorded a profit have yet to commit to paying for their orders. British brands Topshop, Boohoo and Debenhams failed to respond.

Supermarkets Aldi and Lidl have both implemented new policies to not ask factories for price reductions/discounts on comparable items from last season. This shows that it is possible for large brands to instigate such policies. And yet Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reports that 65% of factory suppliers have reported receiving demands for price cuts from brands.

For more information see the COVID-19 Apparel Action Tracker.

Auditing firms need to held accountable

The campaigning organisation Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has criticised a court verdict on the Ali Enterprise garment factory fire in Pakistan that happened in 2012.

The cause of the fire was an arson attack, but it was the lack of proper safety measures that led to the high death toll – 289 people died. The factory owners did not receive sentences.

Nasir Mansoor, general secretary, National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) was reported to have stated:

"The main issue here was not whether it was an arson or accidental fire, but that the factory was not fitted with a proper firefighting system. All exits of the factory including its windows had iron bars. The firefighting equipment present there was not in working condition. The workers were not provided with any training or drills to help them face emergencies.

Even the factory was working illegally. Its construction design was not approved from the departments concerned, and these were the main reasons that resulted in the death of over 260 innocent workers."

Clean Clothes Campaign argue that more needs to be done to hold audit firms accountable as, shockingly, the factory was certified as safe just weeks before the fire.

For more information see the article from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Made in Britain may become new normal

“UK factories could be making up to £4.8 billion more goods for British retailers in the next 12 months” reports the Guardian. The pressures of the global pandemic, it argues, combined with the impending increase in tariffs caused by Brexit, are likely to result in more clothing and other products being made in the UK.

It further highlights how this trend has already started, with major brands, such as Asos and Ted Baker, already having moved some manufacturing back to Britain.

On the one hand, this could mean greater traceability and accountability for fashion supply chains, as well as fewer air-miles. However, as the Boohoo scandal in Leicester shows, serious workers’ rights abuses can still take place here despite our stronger legislation.

The loss of business could also spell disaster for many Asian garment workers already hit hard by the pandemic.

For more information see this article.

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