Clean Clothes Campaign deems it as 'wage theft'
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), a leading organization of global labour unions in the apparel industry, revealed in a report about evidence of “wage theft” in the supply chains of major brands, which caused non-payment to apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh and other sourcing countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Guardian also quoted the report recently, which alleged that major brands such as Primark, Nike and H&M were responsible for “wage theft”, which led to devastating consequences amid the pandemic for garment workers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
The report also said that while none of the brands had broken any laws, they had failed to ensure that their workers were properly paid throughout the pandemic.
Interviews with dozens of garment workers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh discovered many had experienced times last year when they had not been paid their full wages, said the report.
According to the CCC, of the 49 workers interviewed, more than half said they were paid less than before the pandemic.
They also said that workers faced increasing production targets amid a trend of mass layoffs and lack of overtime pay.
According to industry insiders, global fashion brands last year cancelled billions of pounds of clothing orders placed with supplier factories as coronavirus lockdowns shuttered high streets across the world.
There is a growing body of evidence that “wage theft” of poorly paid workers has occurred at a significant scale throughout the pandemic, linked to many of the world’s largest fashion brands, said the report.
A Worker Rights Consortium report in April estimated that total severance theft during Covid-19, across the supply chains of global brands and retailers, was $500m to $850m (£360m-£620m).
Meg Lewis, lead author of theClean Clothes Campaign’s report said that brands have continued to profit and can afford to pay workers. They have the power and responsibility to make sure workers in their supply chains are being paid.
Asking about the report, Mesbah Uddin Khan, managing director of Windy Apparels Ltd, a sourcing factory of both Primark, Nike and H&M, said that at the beginning of the pandemic, the buyers had some problems too.
"Their shops were closed due to lockdown and they also might be suffering from indecision about orders. Orders of Primark and some other brands were postponed for some time. At that time our workers had to face some problems as we did not get our payments,” he added.
He also said that there are no such difficulties right now, as most of the brands have received their orders and paid for them. Manufacturers had also paid the wages and allowances of the workers through incentives and stimulus packages.
The report also demonstrated the estimation of wage theft. Primark now pays $152 per worker while they were paying $157 before the pandemic. H&M’s present and before paid the same, $159, but they reduced payment related to bonuses and overtime.
The present payment of Nike is $274 which was $281 before the pandemic, said the report.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS), told Dhaka Tribune that due to wage theft, a number of factories laid off their workers without paying any severance.
Most brands did it with their workers. None of the RMG workers who lost their jobs in the pandemic received any kind of severance benefit, she added.
She also said that both the brands and manufacturers are responsible for this. They make profit through the workers’ work, but no one wants to understand the inconvenience of the worker.
“However, although the buyers have made a big chunk of profit, they showed irresponsibility like cancelling orders, not paying for shipped products, and asked for a flat discount, which put pressure on the manufacturers,” said Kalpona Akter.
“Again, the manufacturers could not come to a concrete decision on the wages and allowance until they got the government stimulus. This is how wage theft has taken place, a wage gap has also been created,” she added.
The report suggested that all apparel workers should be paid their legally mandated wages and benefits, including severance payments and arrears, for the duration of the pandemic.
Brands, retailers, e-tailers and employers should negotiate directly on an enforceable agreement on wage assurance, severance guarantee fund, and basic labor rights, the report suggested.