The Covid-19 Ripple Effect: Big Brands Who Refuse to #PayUp to Smaller Companies
By: Supriya Sivabalan 


You’re hunched over a small wooden table that houses your sewing machine - your back sore from the ridiculous hours you put in to fulfill orders. It’s not easy, but you’re determined. Your clients and their million loyal shoppers are counting on you. They demand, you supply. With nimble fingers that are now numb, you thread another needle and jump back into it. And repeat. The same cycle - every single day. What is it that keeps you going? Of course, the pay at the end that ensures you and your family are happy and fed. No matter how little it is, it’s still money. Better than nothing. With that, you keep going. Despite the workplace hazards that so obviously jump out at you, you keep going. “There are hundreds, thousands of other workers here. Just push through, for survival.”, you think to yourself. 
A month passes. Then, two. Why have you not been paid yet? You check with your bosses, who meet your eyes with an equally concerned gaze. It’s the virus. Covid-19 has impacted the apparel industry in the worst of ways. Your clients have cancelled. They refuse to #payup for the orders they previously made. The orders you, and a thousand other men and women, laboriously worked through to fulfill in time. All for what? To have big brands cancel, and disappear without a “trace”. Ironic, isn’t it? These are globally-renowned and highly established brands, and they easily vanish after performing such a criminal act. 


Source: @remakeourworld on Instagram
This is real, and this is happening. Unless fashion brands like Forever 21, Gap, Topshop and 20+ others pay up for their orders, “millions of garment makers will go hungry and be forced onto the streets. Many have already been sent home with no severance, savings, or access to healthcare.” Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, many manufacturing industries in less developed countries were stabbed in the back by these big-name brands as they cancelled orders that have already been sewn and act unprofessionally by refusing to #payup their dues. 
Remake, a Non-Profit Organisation that pledges to end fast fashion, quickly picked up on this injustice and has launched the #PayUp Campaign to highlight the plight of these underprivileged communities who have been exploited by bigger players in the fashion economy. It has been roughly 2 months since the petition has been up and has garnered almost 20,000 signatures! They have achieved real victories by successfully pressuring 15 companies including Tesco, Adidas, Nike and H&M into financially compensating for their orders. 

Click here to read a detailed list and for latest updates on where these brands stand when it comes to paying up. 

Latest update on the #PayUp Campaign
Source: @remakeourworld on Instagram
This issue is not gathering as much attention as it should, given the weight of its reality. It is affecting real lives, people with real families and a very real need to survive. In fact, a viral tweet by a Bangladeshi Twitter User @LoverOfTheQueen highlighted the plight of the people in her country. 

In her tweet, she attaches two screenshots of a Facebook post that talks about the desperation of a denim manufacturer in Chittagong, Bangladesh. It includes a heartbreaking picture that really puts a face to these words we read.

Screenshot #1
Screenshot #2
This is an issue that is happening across the globe in countries including India, Myanmar, Cambodia and the USA. It is a vulnerable supply chain of workers that are currently facing this crisis, helpless due to the lack of labour laws and enforcement to protect their rights. In the midst of this pandemic, the fashion industry continues to work diligently to fulfill the orders of their highly established clients - to produce garments and even Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for the frontlines. However, the nonchalant cancellations and refusal to #payup still take place, even with regards to the PPE production. 
To make matters worse, there have been reports that mention companies who refuse to cooperate to provide employees with masks despite having them risk their lives by working throughout the different stages of the pandemic. In fact, Buzzfeed News recently writes that around 500 workers who were creating PPE for Inditex (the company that owns Zara) were laid off simply because they requested for masks and social distancing practices to be observed. Add this to the wage and condition disparity of those at the frontlines in fashion, it is definitely time to pressure these companies to #PayUp for all the orders that have been placed so as to not blindly leave these workers in despair. 


As of now, there are a few ways you can help the situation:

Source: @remakeourworld on Instagram
1. Sign the#PayUp petition by Remake. A simple signature can go a long way as it is the voice of the public which strives to bury injustice brought upon the fashion industry.

Latest update on Lost Stock’s Initiative as of 26 May 2020. 
Source: Lost Stock Facebook Page
2. Check out Lost Stock. Lost Stock is a response to the Covid-19 crisis that was created to help factory workers in Bangladesh through a collaborative approach, led by Mallzee, a multi-retailer shopping app. The idea is for consumers to buy a box that contains clothes which retailers refused to take because of Coronavirus. Each box sold can support a worker a week, and you can even choose your preferred sizes for the items!  Disclaimer: Lost Stock only delivers to the UK, Ireland and Australia.
3. Keep a lookout for other platforms and initiatives that give these garment workers in underdeveloped countries a voice. Share social media posts, tell their story, raise awareness. It brings us all one step closer to solving this injustice. 
    In an ideal world, we should be moving forward into a society where big brands understand CARE about the powerful impact of their decisions upon the lives of millions of workers. A society where corporations are not cowards by backing out of deals made with smaller companies when things get tough. A society where better labour laws and strict enforcement in underdeveloped countries are also pursued to protect the rights of workers in fashion.
    Ethical fashion is important in building an equitable society at all levels, from the maker of garments to the receivers. With the coronavirus in today’s scenario, the fashion world is far from the notion “ethical”. The least that can be done by these conglomerates is ensuring payment and proper cash flow so that no family is left burdened out on the streets. Then, we can talk about ethical fashion, which could start by simply providing the workers with masks and observing social distancing.  
    *Featured image is retrieved from Remake's petition form