All Eyes on Fast Fashion — New Rules for a New Era of Supply Chains

May 1, 2020

On May Day, Global Labor Justice (GLJ) launches All Eyes on Fast Fashion — New Rules for a New Era of Supply Chains, our web-based tool to redefine rules for global supply chains that create living wage jobs and  transform how corporate accountability is defined and enforced, and how value will be redistributed from finance, brands, and platforms to retail, logistics, and production workers in the global garment supply chain. 

All Eyes on Fast Fashion will begin with a demand to fifteen major fast fashion brands for a Supply Chain Relief Contribution (SRC) equal to sixty days of income paid to workers through the suppliers who directly employ them. May Day marks more than five weeks that have passed since most of the 40 million garment workers in fast fashion supply chains — mostly women — began to be deeply impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

Government and corporate responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic have exposed structural inequalities created by supply chain models of production. Within the fast fashion industry — consumer apparel, footwear and home good textile — the pandemic revealed how current supply chain models widen inequality and create a race to the bottom for workers, small suppliers, and the governments of countries that rely on garment production as a major private sector export sector.  

In the face of COVID-19, all global garment brands immediately canceled or postponed orders invoking force majeure clauses, resulting in tens of millions of garment workers losing wages due to layoffs or suspension of work, creating a humanitarian crisis leaving garment workers without recourse to access their most basic needs including food, healthcare and lost wages.

More than 40 million garment workers — mostly women — earn poverty level wages and losing even a few weeks of wages has left them facing severe food, housing, education and healthcare insecurity. Additionally, brands’ production contracts have such low margins that suppliers were left without funds to retain workers or provide subsistence support.  

Most countries housing significant garment production were also left without significant enough resources to provide national income support because the current global supply chain production model forces countries to compete with each other by lowering wages, regulation, and contributions to state social safety net programs. 

GLJ’s partner, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, developed this SRC demand with nineteen partner unions in four countries. GLJ has written to ask fifteen major fast fashion brands to immediately pay 2% of their annual sourcing towards immediate relief for supply chain workers. The SRC is a relief contribution and in no way substitutes brands’ existing and ongoing supply chain obligations to pay for orders given and produced, to not cancel orders, to not seek discounts in an already under-costed supply chain, and to act accountability in relation to any future cases of downsizing, retrenchment and closure.

As workers, suppliers, and brands work together to rebuild supply chain capacity in the fast fashion sector, we must create a new era of supply chains where brands and their investors are held accountable for responsible business practices that fundamentally shift the imbalance of power and massive inequalities that have long plagued the global fashion industry. 

As quoted in the Business of Fashion’s article, Protecting Workers’ Rights is Harder Than Ever in a Global Pandemic, Global Labor Justice’s U.S. Director, JJ Rosenbaum says: “This is not the time to ask the question of what is the minimum brands can get away with and not lose public face. This is the time to ask the question of how can we reorganise supply chains in a way that is promoting equity.”

As we move towards a new reality, all eyes will be on the fast fashion industry — and we will continue to push for systemic change to create a new era where exploitation is abolished and all workers on the global garment supply chain are paid a living wage, their right to freedom of association is respected, and workplaces are free from gender based violence and harassment to ensure justice for all workers in the global economy.