July 28, 2021

Wage Theft: defining the pandemic

Why we have to stop referring to brands as 'buyers'. Plus a second edition of Stitched Up, new articles, and a writing prize - news from July 2021.

Wage Theft: defining the pandemic

How is your summer going? I'm at my desk dreaming of being back in the Shropshire hills where I escaped for a few days last week.

Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to this newsletter so far, it's exciting to see the numbers tick upwards. I have a lot of info to share this week including some new articles so I'm going to dive straight in.

A bit of news from my desk is that I am now hard at work creating a second edition of Stitched Up - The Anti-Capitalist Book Of Fashion. I signed up to do this thinking it would be a relatively simple process but guess what - it's not! I'm about a third of the way through and have already asked Pluto to extend my Autumn deadline. The writing is hard because so much has changed and yet very little has changed. It's clear that life for garment workers has gotten worse in the past decade - even without Covid. A major problem being that wages have stagnated while profits have shot up into the stratosphere.

Why call it theft?

This brings me to my Interview Quote Of The Month and a report that I want to showcase in case you haven't read it yet.

"We have to completely stop calling the brand - 'the buyer' and recognise the brand as the primary employer."

This is from an interview I transcribed this morning after a call with Nandita Shivakuma, India Coordinator at the Asia Floor Wage. Nandita is making a brilliant point here, one that is crucial to changing the discourse about the balance of power in the fashion industry.

What Nandita is arguing for is replacing the language of purchasing practice with the language of manufacturing contracts. How can we refer to supplier factories as primary employers when factories control virtually no aspect of the production process? The brands give the orders, they have their own specifications, they provide the designs for clothes and set the harsh timelines. Any change in this, such as cancelling an order or demanding a discount impacts workers directly. Plus crucially, supplier factories cannot sell the products they are making - from start to finish the production process belongs to the brands.

Why is this important? Because we have to stop brands shrugging off responsibility for the workers that they employ. Brands are roaming the world breaking labour laws, threatening suppliers and governments that they'll go elsewhere if they don't get the low costs they want. To end this lawlessness we have to first name brands for what they are: primary employers for 60 million garment workers.

In a world beset by a pandemic, this means brands taking responsibility for the theft of tens of billions of dollars worth of wages. Wage theft not 'wage loss' - this isn't an accident, it's an illegal robbery dressed up as a business model.

You can read more about this issue in an in-depth report from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance called Money Heist: COVID 19 Wage Theft in Global Garment Supply Chains. I want to try to prevent this newsletter from becoming too depressing but I have to say that when I went to the launch of this report, its authors concluded that during the pandemic "workers coped by engaging in their own mental and physical degradation" and that the pandemic saw the "mining of workers’ bodies" - descriptions I can't get out of my head.

Money Heist : COVID 19 Wage Theft in Global Garment Supply Chains

NEW ARTICLES

If we're in touch either online or IRL, you might have seen that I've been working on a cross-border journalism project called Mapping The Covid Rights Roll Back In The RMG Sector - full story here.

These are the latest two stories we've published:

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.

Okay, that's enough from me, I'm going back to day dreaming about the Shropshire Hills and/or these dresses from the TRAID shop window in north London. Have a great summer. In solidarity, Tansy.

p.s. One thing that is keeping me motivated while I work on Stitched Up II is that I won a writing award for Fashion & Beauty Writing in the Freelance Writing Awards. This was a lovely surprise as I thought I was too much of a 'Left Field' candidate to actually win. Hopefully this helps to continue to redefine what it means to write about the fashion industry.

p.p.s. Please feel free to forward this newsletter on, and if you know anyone who would like to subscribe please send them over to https://tansyhoskins.org/

The Long Mynd, Shropshire Hills