If there is one thing the pandemic put an end to it was international travel. How then to report on the decimation of workers rights during a global crisis?
The fashion industry's response to the pandemic has intensified multiple points of crisis: Migrant rights, gender based violence, loss of wages and poverty, the absence of state protection, lack of proper oversight from brands and fatally dangerous work environments. All of these issues require more coverage that centres the voices of garment workers.
Having worked at Investigate Europe, I was already a big supporter of cross-border collaborative journalism. What this means is you work collaboratively with a team of people who are in different countries from you. The team pools resources, has a collective aim, supports each other and everyone acts as teammates rather than competitors.
In the Summer of 2020 I wrote a story with someone I have never met - Juan Mayorga, a Mexican journalist who specialises in environmental reporting. We conducted an investigation into a Guatemalan factory where there had been a huge Covid-19 outbreak and were able to show both that it was a supplier factory for huge brands - Gap, American Eagle and Amazon, and that proper safety measures had not been followed.
Juan and I decided to try to expand our team and find some funding. Through our networks we found two amazing people: Nidia Bautista, a journalist and PhD student in Chicana/o and Central American Studies at UCLA who covers immigration, human rights issues and gender violence. And Dil Afrose Jahan, a journalist based in Bangladesh where she specialises in covering human rights, migration, crisis and women's and children's issues. We then teamed up with the Contra Corriente team in Honduras and... RMG Colectivo was born! (RMG for Ready Made Garments.)
The next step was to research and apply for multiple grants. In February, we secured support from the National Geographic Society to carry out a project called: MAPPING THE COVID RIGHTS ROLL BACK IN THE RMG SECTOR with a focus on Bangladesh, Honduras, Los Angeles, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
The results of this investigation are now starting to be published in Spanish and English and I will be gathering them here:
How the West’s thirst for fast fashion is destroying lives - Dhaka Tribune
"Work pressure forces them to become a human machine." This is a devastating piece documenting terminations, unpaid wages, sexual harassment, abuse, and sickness from work - including urine infections from not being allowed to drink enough water.
Work and Death in Sri Lanka’s Garment Industry - Jacobin Magazine
Sri Lanka is home to some of the biggest garment manufacturers in the world, and while clothing exports have risen, so have COVID-19 infections among workers. Sri Lanka’s garment workers find themselves caught between production targets and destitution, sickness, hunger and increasing authoritarianism.
Pandemia, abuso laboral en la industria textil (Pandemic labour abuse in the textile industry) - Underground. Periodismo Internacional
A brilliant round up of our investigation - detailing what has been happening to garment workers in Honduras, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Los Angeles.
This article is about what happened when a group of workers went to ask for their wages from a shoe factory in Myanmar. It's also about the Texan cowboy boot brand who contract to the factory.
Personas enfermas por trabajo en maquila fueron despedidas con la excusa de la pandemia (People sick from maquila work were fired with the pandemic as the excuse) - Contra Corriente
This article is about Honduras - a country that does not receive enough attention from journalists covering the garment industry. It documents the appalling mistreatment of workers during the pandemic, workers whose health was already run down by years of maquila work.
While you wait for more articles, check out this previous cross-border journalism project Sewn On The Edge by Afrose and colleagues. This investigation looked at the impact of Covid-19 on Bangladesh's RMG industry and won a Swiss Press Award.
None of this would have been possible, firstly without the generosity of the National Geographic Society, and secondly without an additional team of News Assistants in various countries, some of whom took considerable risks to assist in this investigation. RMG Colectivo remains indebted to their work and courage.