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Your Hungry Apparel Workers

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Look down at your shoes. Take a look at your shirt. Check out the tag. Where was it made? Then think about the workers who made it. Preferably after not eating for 16 hours. Because that’s their lives. The Workers Rights Consortium has a new report about hunger in the apparel supply chains that has gotten significantly worse in the COVID-era with western consumption down and thus factory orders cancelled. Here’s a summary:

The catastrophic fallout of the fashion industry’s decision to cancel billions of pounds of clothing orders at the start of the pandemic has left garment workers across the world facing chronic food shortages as wages plunge and factories close.

Interviews with nearly 400 garment workers in Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Lesotho, Haiti, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Cambodia and Bangladesh conducted by human rights group Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), found that almost 80% of workers, many making clothes for some of the world’s largest fashion brands, are going hungry. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said that they were facing daily food shortages.

The majority (60%) of those interviewed were still employed in clothing factories supplying overseas brands. The report found that across all nine countries, workers had experienced an average 21% drop in wages since the beginning of the year, leading to many being unable to cover basic living costs.

Others had lost their jobs when their factories closed or sacked or suspended workers after brands cancelled orders or pulled their business at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Brands bear substantial responsibility for the destitution garment workers are facing,” said Penelope Kyritsis, director of strategic research at WRC.

This is why simplistic notions on the economic left around protectionism and Bring the Jobs Back are just bankrupt in the modern globalized economy. It just doesn’t work, politically or economically. Moreover, it ignores the very real destitute this would cause globally. What we need is a global regulatory system that holds corporations responsible for their supply chains, as I have suggested many times in discussion my ideas around a Corporate Accountability Act.

Put simply, this situation does not have to exist. It exists because of the brands in a business model that has not changed in any meaningful way between the Triangle Fire and the Rana Plaza collapse except for going international. This must change. And it can change. But if only if we care enough to make it front and center in our progressive politics.

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