H&M, Primark and Nike are the targets of a new campaign calling for garment workers to be paid what they are owed following order cancellations due to Covid-19.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, which launched the ‘Pay your workers’ campaign, said H&M, Primark and Nike were the three brands that most frequently appeared in reports from workers about rights violations during the pandemic.
Many clothing brands and retailers have responded to coronavirus lockdowns and reduced sales by cutting or cancelling orders with suppliers.
For the first three months of the pandemic, garment workers in global supply chains were owed between $3.2bn and $5.8bn in unpaid wages, legally owed bonuses, and compensation. As a result, many garment workers have been left unpaid or with reduced wages while some lost their jobs.
While some brands have since committed to paying for previously cancelled orders in full, workers in their supply chains have still been left without income, the campaign group added.
Clean Clothes Campaign said fashion brands have “excessive power in global supply chains”, setting the terms and prices in factories where they “basically function as principal employers”.
“Their measures to save money and decrease business risks in the face of a pandemic have created a situation in which workers pay the price for this crisis,” it said.
Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “This campaign targets some of the wealthiest apparel supply chains in the world. These brands have made profits for decades on the basis of poverty wages and outsourced responsibility without contributing to any form of social protection in garment producing countries.
“Our campaign aims to reclaim funds for the workers, by convincing brands to take responsibility for the people who enabled great profits through their underpaid labour.”
An H&M spokesperson said: “The pandemic has put the garment workers in a difficult situation and there is undeniably a clear need for structural change within countries with weak social protection systems.
“We want to support such a development in a responsible way, making sure that we contribute to stable systems and systemic transformation. We are therefore working closely together with the ILO [International Labour Organization], employers organisations and trade unions, and other brands on this issue.”
A Primark spokesperson said the retailer had pledged to pay its garment suppliers “in full for all outstanding finished garments and to utilise or pay for any finished fabric liabilities” in July, adding the firm had placed orders for £1.2bn of products.
They added: “Every factory making Primark products must commit to meeting the standards set out in the Primark code of conduct, which states that wages must be paid in line with the law or industry benchmark, whichever is highest, and that wages must always be enough to meet basic needs and provide some discretionary income.
“Our team of over 120 ethical trade experts audits every factory making Primark products at least once a year, sometimes more, to check that all the standards in the code are being met, including checking that all suppliers pay wages in line with our code.”
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