Force Majeure and Covid-19: A Guide for Suppliers in the Garment Industry

Image: Getty Images

Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, some brands and retailers have cancelled and refuse to pay for orders by claiming that Covid-19 constitutes an event of force majeure. But what is force majeure, and what steps can you (as a supplier) take to protect yourself and your business where a brand cancels or refuses to pay on this basis?

The Circle is proud to publish a briefing for suppliers on force majeure in partnership with Traidcraft Exchange. 

The Covid-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of demand drying up and brands cancelling manufacturing orders. As a result of retailers having cancelled orders or demanded discounts from suppliers in countries including Cambodia and Bangladesh, an estimated 60 million garment workers could struggle to weather the crisis with many workers going without pay or being fired. “As far as buyers are concerned, there has never been any real room for negotiations,” said a major garment supplier in south India, who declined to be named to protect his business.

Early indications estimated a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled, and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost, although this figure may now be lower as some brands have backtracked due to public pressure.

This briefing produced by Traidcraft Exchange and The Circle was made to support suppliers in response to Covid-19. Using this briefing for guidance in their negotiations with brands and retailers when force majeure is used to cancel a contract, or refuses to pay for it. The briefing provides a background to the meaning and application of force majeure and highlights steps to take for suppliers to take.

To read the full briefing here: Force Majeure – Garment Sector Suppliers

 

Image: Fabeha Monir for The New York Times


The Impact of COVID-19 on Garment Workers

 

The Circle’s Living Wage Team consider the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers and the fashion industry and discuss why, more than ever, a living wage needs to be recognised as a fundamental human right.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of demand drying up and brands cancelling manufacturing orders.

The pandemic highlights the weak contractual agreements suppliers have with brands and retailers and lays bare the limitations of the current approach to protecting worker’s rights. For years companies have preferred voluntary codes of conduct, arguing that they can self-regulate their behaviour. Recent events show these have failed – and that we need legal mechanisms to strengthen the responsibilities companies have, to uphold the rights of workers in their supply chain. This issue has never been so important. Understanding exactly what those responsibilities entail is key as we go forward into debates about the recovery of garment manufacturing and how to structure a fair and sustainable supply chain. The Circle’s Living Wage Project can play an important role in creating a space for this, providing legal expertise, facilitating discussion and collaborating with key stakeholders to bring legal solutions that will work.

How is COVID-19 impacting garment workers?

The full economic and social impact of COVID-19 on workers in the garment supply chain is as yet unknown, but the effect is global. Economies are slowing, many tipping into recession. Shops have closed, demand for fashion has dried up and companies are facing huge losses in revenue. In an effort to bolster much needed liquidity to keep them afloat, many brands and retailers are aggressively cutting costs overseas, in effect shifting the risk onto their suppliers. As a result, many companies are refusing to honour their contracts with suppliers, either through non-payment of orders already complete or in process, refusal to pay for materials already purchased by factories, cancellation of future orders or forcing the extension of payment deadlines.

The Workers Rights Consortium estimate there are a total of 50 million workers in production factories worldwide. Early indications estimate a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled, and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost. This in turn is devastating for textile workers who are losing their livelihoods and sometimes their homes as a result. In Pakistan 1 million workers are set to lose their jobs while reports from Bangladesh indicate some 2.27 million workers are affected by cancelled orders. Many of these workers are young women, often their family’s primary wage earner and the impact on them will be devastating.

There is also the issue of the impact of the pandemic on the workers themselves, who risk exposure and lack essential protection such as face masks. Workers therefore have limited ability to protect themselves and limited access to services such as childcare facilities, medical insurance or hazard pay.

While we recognise that many people are also losing their jobs in the West, here there are regulations around corporate behaviour and employment standards that garment workers in the Global South are not protected by. Additionally, many garment workers live in countries with no social protection mechanisms and having received poverty wages for years have no savings to offer any form of buffer in even the short term, let alone if the crisis continues for months – as is predicted. The nature of global supply chains is such that companies in Western markets have profited for years from cheap labour in production countries and now are able to withdraw without any responsibility towards the millions of workers who have helped generate their huge profits.

What should we expect fashion brands to do?

In the first instance brands and retailers must honour their contracts and ensure that the workers who have made their products are paid, that is the minimum. Secondly, brands need to work with their suppliers and as far as is possible support them to keep their workers employed. For many workers if they lose their employment status, they not only lose their income but also risk falling off the radar completely should any state support to factories become available.

In the coming months, questions around how to establish social protection floors which will support workers will need to be addressed, and brands and retailers must be part of that conversation.

How do I know what brands are doing?

It is difficult to know the details of what individual brands are doing but the Workers Rights Consortium (an independent labour rights monitoring organisation) are tracking brands and their commitment to pay in full for orders completed or in production in countries such as Bangladesh. See here.

Another reliable source of information is Clean Clothes Campaign’s live blog, which is updated daily with news reports, categorised by country, detailing the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers around the world.

Why is this important to the Living Wage Project?

The aim of the Living Wage Project is to bring about legislation in the form of a new EU legal framework, to ensure the payment of a living wage by fashion brands to millions of women and men in global garment supply chains. A living wage is a wage that goes beyond a minimum wage and provides the worker with the means to not just survive but also to put some money aside for education and savings. This means they can provide for their family with a buffer against the worst conditions of poverty. Such legislation is more important than ever going forward. Although we don’t know what supply chains will look like after the pandemic is under control, there is no reason to believe globalisation will markedly change  and there is the real possibility that conditions could further worsen for workers in global supply chains as economies move into recession.

Does this change the work of the Living Wage Project?

Yes and No. What the pandemic has shown us more than ever is that voluntarism does not work. The ‘trust’ we have that companies will do the right thing by their workers is misplaced – it’s not enough. Depending upon CSR (corporate social responsibility) to address employment conditions is always going to be piecemeal, and dependent upon the good will and resources of an individual company. To that extent our work going forward on the living wage is critical, strengthening human rights legislation through ensuring workers get paid a living wage.

What can I do to support garment workers?

We must continue to put pressure on fashion brands and retailers to do the right thing by their suppliers and support workers where we can. As individuals it can seem overwhelming and we wonder what role we can play, but brands do listen to customers. Below are some suggestions for action:

Write to the brands

Write to brands that you buy from asking them what they are doing to ensure that garment workers are being paid during this period. Are they honouring their payment for orders already placed? Can they vouch that the payments made are reaching the workers?

For guidance on what to write, you can find a useful template at Fashion Revolution. If you would rather sign a petition, then have Traidcraft Exchange have a letter you can sign your name to.

Donate to The Circle

A donation to The Circle’s Living Wage project will mean we can continue in our work to ensure that workers are paid a living wage. By donating to this project and you are helping to create a “race to the top” to protect the right of millions of workers to receive a living wage. Every contribution will make a difference.

Updates

As a result of ongoing campaigns, it has been officially reported that:

  • Awaj estimates 71% of garment workers were paid in April.
  • Garment Diaries estimates 86% of garment workers were paid.
  • BGMEA reports 2,200 factories have paid workers
  • Wage data details are here. 
  • According to a Brand Tracker, regularly updated by the Worker Rights Consortium, over a dozen large companies, including Uddin’s buyers, as well as Primark, Bestseller, Walmart (Asda), Under Armour, Kohl’s, Ross Dress for Less, Urban Outfitters, and Gap Inc. (Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic), among others, have canceled orders or renegotiated payment terms to demand discounts and payment delays.

The Circle Joins Civil Society Coalition Calling on the EU to Re-Design the Textile Industry’s Broken Business Model

 

Today brings the launch of the Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear, a shadow strategy developed by a diverse coalition of 65 social and environmental NGOs.

The Circle is pleased to be a signatory to this document, joining with others to call on the EU to promote and support development of a Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear (TGLF) industry that respects human rights, creates decent jobs and adheres to high environmental and responsible governance standards throughout its value chain, in the EU and beyond.

“This strategy is more relevant now than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts global supply chains and increases the vulnerability of garment workers in some of the world’s poorest countries,” says Dr Sharon McClenaghan of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. “Stronger regulation is needed to address the negative impact this industry has on the environment and to protect workers around the world from the harmful employment practices of brands and retailers.”


Press Release: Coronavirus strengthens case for new EU textile laws – 65 civil society groups publish joint vision

Executive summary: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear

Full text of the strategy: Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear


The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the extreme vulnerability of workers in global garment supply chains as never before as shops close and demand for fashion dries up.

Early indications estimate a total of £20 billion of orders worldwide have been cancelled,1 and in Bangladesh alone, the second biggest apparel producer, an estimated $6 billion in export revenue is estimated to be lost.2 This in turn is devastating for textile workers who are losing their livelihoods and sometimes their homes as a result. In Pakistan 1 million workers are set to lose their jobs3 while reports from Bangladesh indicate some 2.27 million workers are affected by cancelled orders.4 The Workers Rights Consortium estimate there are a total of 50 million workers in production factories worldwide.5 Many of these workers are young women, often their family’s primary wage earner.

“The current crisis is unprecedented,” added Sharon. “At the moment no one knows quite what the industry will look like when the pandemic ends. Our concern is that when supply chains open up again these workers will be more vulnerable to exploitation than before. We desperately need regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that does not happen.”


The Circle’s Living Wage Symposium

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi

On 8 November, we continued our work to ensure a Living Wage for the millions of women working in the garment industry by convening a symposium to bring together those with the same aim. We were joined at Pinsent Masons by incredible change-makers and enjoyed discussions from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT Coalition, Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign amongst others.

 

We began the day hearing from our keynote speaker, the inspirational Anannya Bhaattacharjee, founder and President of the Garment and Allied workers union in Northern India. Anannya encouraged the room to push forward ‘the theme of solutions’ on the urgent issue of a living wage. She also took the opportunity to remind us of the abuse that happens throughout supply chains that is facilitated by the lack of a living wage and the fact that many consumers are unaware of the true cost of garments. The need for increased transparency was a key theme throughout the day and came up again and again across all of our panels.

“Fashion brands are the drivers of the supply chain” – Anannya Bhaattacharjee

Jessica Simor QC, the legal driving force behind our second report, used her opening speech as an opportunity to remind us that the industry is an uneven playing field. This environment is one that works against brands that want to do better in their supply chains and began the conversation of what structural changes need to be made to allow retailers, investors and individuals to introduce a living wage within their supply chains without losing their competitive edge.

 

Our different panels spoke from positions of experience across many difference fields and with a varied wealth of knowledge. However, many of our speakers spoke about how important legislation that the report outlines will be in achieving the living wage, how transparency for the consumer but also for regulatory boards is vital, and discussed different methodologies on how to implement legislation with ‘teeth’.

“The poorer you are the more vulnerable you are and the more vulnerable you are the more exploited you are …. so a living wage makes a real difference from the ground up” – Adil Rehman

 

Melanie Hall, QC, Ambassador for The Circle, and Livia Firth, Founder of Eco-Age and Ambassador for The Circle closed the day with some incredibly poignant speeches. Livia quoted lecturer and author, Naomi Tyrell, “nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages, otherwise the companies will keep hopping from one country to the other, in pursuit of the cheapest bargain.” This is the argument outlined in our report launched at the event wage changes must be made simultaneously and region-wide to ensure that brands cannot continue to the “race to the bottom” in countries that simply cannot turn down the employment provided by the fashion industry.

 

All those involved in this report understand that there will be obstacles and there will be resistance, but as our Ambassador Melanie Hall closed with:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer”

A huge thank you to all of our speakers and to JJ Charitable Trust and Pinsent Mason for their support in making this symposium happen.

Download the full report here: Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework For a Living Wage

You can also use the link below:

You can read more about our living wage work, and donate to support this project, at our Living Wage Project hub.


Interview with our Living Wage Project Manager

 

Earlier this year, Sharon McClenaghan joined The Circle as the project manager for our Living Wage work. For September, we are focusing on the progress we’ve made with this project and wanted to give our readers this chance to hear from Sharon herself. We sat down and asked her a few questions.

Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi Anna, thank you for the welcome. I joined the Circle in April 2019 as the part-time project manager of the Living Wage project. I have a background in labour rights having worked at Christian Aid for over 10 years as private Sector advisor and in that capacity as a director on the board of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) for 2.5 years. During that time I helped lead the work on improving conditions for workers in supply chains in South Africa in the fruit sector, working with high street supermarkets such as Sainsburys Waitrose and Co-op. Before that I worked on a DFID project focused on developing supermarket codes of conduct sensitive to the conditions of women workers and before that again I worked on a PhD looking at the conditions of women workers in ‘maquiladoras’ (or sweatshops) in the Dominican Republic. I also work in a team of consultants evaluating UN projects.

What have you been working on since starting at The Circle?

Since April, we have been busy working on the next stage of the Living Wage
project and building on the very strong report which The Circle produced in 2017 with the aim of producing a second report later in the year. The first report clearly establishes the living wage as a fundamental right, making the argument that production can move to other countries where wages are cheaper. In order to counter this, the second report will provide the basis of a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage throughout the supply chain in all jurisdictions. New research was commissioned by the Lawyer`s Circle Steering group in April and May and this was developed into a proposal (which will form the basis of the report). In June we held a Roundtable with invited guests, the majority of whom were lawyers from academia and companies, at Matrix Chambers to discuss this and to help us think through the next stages of a legal framework on living wages and and what support we need to develop to enable this to happen.


What can we expect from the Living Wage project over the coming months?

We have a lot planned for the next few months. We are currently writing the second living wage report, due to be completed in September. In October I will attend the PLWF conference (a Dutch based initiative representing the investor sector in Holland) which encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of living wage in their global supply chains. We have worked with PLWF before to support their work and plan to strengthen this partnership. In November Jessica Simor and Livia Firth, members of the Steering group of the Living wage project will speak at the Trust conference London 2019, a global human rights forum in which they will `soft launch` the report. Towards the end of the year we are planning a Living Wage Symposium which will bring together all those working on the Living wage as well as those working on the wider issue of mandatory human rights due diligence as it relates to companies. The focus of the symposium will be to discuss the legal framework for a living wage as proposed in the report and the different work and initiatives related to this. The symposium will be ‘solutions orientated’ in focus.

What have you found most surprising about the conditions of women working
in the factory industry?

Probably most surprising and depressing s the fact that conditions remain so poor for so many women working in supply chains after so long. Initially, 20 years ago, there was a lot of hope that company codes of conduct would improve conditions but time has shown that this is just not the case. If anything the lack of a legal imperative to change has meant that for many companies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, is a rue and its `business as usual` despite promoting commitments to change.

Are you hopeful about the future of the industry?

I am cautiously hopeful (as is my nature!) about the future of the industry. I see the growing phenomena of `fast fashion` and its dependence upon cheap labour as alarming especially examples where clothes are produced here in the UK for a few pounds. However, at the same time I see a growing trend in the UK and other European countries to call companies to account for their human rights and to push for a legal solution to ensure that they take responsibility for workers`s rights. In that context I think the Circle`s legal work on the living wage is critical- while there are those working on mandatory `human rights due diligence` as it relates to companies and their supply chains, only the Circle is working on that as it relates to Living wage.

What can we do, as consumers, to support women across the globe working in the garment industry?

As consumers the most important thing is be thoughtful and questioning as to the conditions in which clothes are made. Ask questions of brands as to the conditions under which garments are produced. What is their policy on labour standards and in particular on the Living Wage? Do they have full disclosure of their supply chains and are they transparent about this? How do they investigate allegations of abuse? Ask these questions of all brands. I think its very hard to know currently which brands are `good` and which are `bad` especially since there is still no way to ensure that clothing has been produced in an ethical way with living wages paid to workers. By asking questions and demanding answers of brands we can help push them further along that road and when there is a campaign for binding legislation.

Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?

I love the idea of women empowering women and it was that which first attracted me to The Circle. I have always been very proud to call myself a feminist and one with a lovely husband and two lovely boys so there isn’t anything remotely anti-male about the idea to me, despite it being threatening to some men. However, yes, the focus is on women making changes happen for themselves and for other women in a non hierarchical way and in a way where there is no competition or threat just the desire to improve the conditions of all women, which benefits everyone, men and women.

To support our Living Wage work click here. Sharon McClenaghan will be hosting The Circle Connects: Living Wage on 24 September for our members to find out more about the project – register here.


8 Things You Should Know about Fast Fashion

 
The fast fashion industry has been a hot topic at The Circle this year. Back in May, The Lawyers Circle published a report that sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental right. We are now planning a two-year campaign to ensure accountability in the fashion industry, to tackle the poverty wages that blight garment workers’ lives.

With that in mind, here are eight facts you should know about the clothes you wear…

1. The global apparel industry is worth $3000,000,000,000,000

Yes, you read that right: the fashion industry has global revenues of three trillion US dollars. To put that into perspective, you could buy seven million Ferraris with that money, or put fifty million students through university. There’s a lot of money to be made.

2. Much of this revenue comes from fast fashion

Fast fashion is a globalised business strategy which aims to get low-price clothes to the consumer as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Designs seen on the catwalk one week might hit the shops a fortnight later. This is a relatively recent phenomenon (global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014) and an incredibly lucrative one. For fast fashion companies, that is.

3. While companies profit, their workers suffer

Transnational fashion corporations (the big brand names in fashion) are the real winners in this situation. They can quickly move their production to the lowest-wage states to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the economies of producer companies have become highly dependent on the sector. This has created a “race to the bottom”, whereby states allow poverty wages in order to attract investment. Garment workers earn just $140 per month in Cambodia, $171 in parts of China and $315 in Romania.

4. Poverty wages aren’t just an issue in South Asia

The Lawyers Circle’s report on the living wage looks at clothing production in a range of countries, from Bangladesh to Morocco, from Portugal to Romania. Garment factories are spread across the globe, but their geographical diversity belies a fundamental similarity: they offer some of the lowest wage rates and worst labour conditions on earth.

5. It is mainly women who are affected

Between 60 and 75 million people work in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide. Almost three quarters of them are women — 3.2 million in Bangladesh alone. Unfortunately, women are easier targets for exploitation and discrimination: they are more vulnerable to intimidation and sexual violence, and less likely to agitate for their rights.

6. Garment workers have been forced to develop coping strategies

Struggling to survive on the minimum wage, garment workers have to cut corners wherever they can. They might take out high-interest loans to pay for school books, or do extensive overtime to cover their utility bills. Many workers are foregoing vital medical treatment in order to save money, and thousands are cutting back on food (one campaigning organisation found that female garment workers could only afford to eat half the calories they needed, and would frequently faint at work as a result).

7. Paying the minimum wage is not enough

Plenty of well-known fashion companies argue that they pay their workers the national minimum wage, and should therefore be exempt from criticism. They do this knowing that the minimum wage (the lowest wage permitted by law) falls far short of the living wage (the amount needed to maintain a normal standard of living). In Cambodia, for example, garment workers can legally be paid just 6% of what they need to live a normal life. Paying the minimum wage is not enough: workers need an income that can comfortably feed their families; they need better working conditions and protection.

8. But there is hope!

Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,334 garment workers, some progress has been made on improving conditions and wages in the garment industry. There have been numerous reports, initiatives, roadmaps and pilot projects, though most of these have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. Major brands have committed to paying the living wage, albeit with a temporal disclaimer – “eventually”, “at some point in the future”.

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle are working to accelerate the process, to ensure that companies accept responsibility for their actions and make concrete improvements to workers’ lives.

The facts in this article have been drawn from the report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, produced by The Lawyers Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign. Click here to read the full report, and donate to help us guarantee a living wage for all garment workers.


The Lawyers Circle Groundbreaking Living Wage Report in the Media

The Circle member and co-founder Livia Firth and The Circle member Jessica Simor at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. (Photo credit: Copenhagen Fashion Summit)

On 11 May 2017, The Lawyers Circle launched a groundbreaking report at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage reviews the minimum and living wages, and the protection of workers’ rights in fourteen major garment-producing countries to argue that a living wage is a fundamental right and that brands have a responsibility to ensure that garment workers are paid a living wage.

This is what the media has been saying about it.

Livia Firth Highlights Major Problems in the Fashion Industry

It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a problem when it comes to sustainability. Not only is clothing one of the biggest contributors of waste in the world, manufacturing conditions have contributed to a humanitarian crisis across the globe. It’s these reasons that have led the industry’s top brands to come together to work toward a solution. Thursday, at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, founder of Eco Age Ltd. Livia Firth, fashion designer, Prabal Gurung, Hugo Boss CEO Mark Langer, and brands like Adidas and H&M, came together to figure out a way to make the necessary changes.

(…)


At Copenhagen Summit, Turning Sustainability Commitments Into Action

“Do any of you remember the 10-year plan of action we launched in 2009? No?” said Eva Kruse, president and chief executive of the Global Fashion Agenda, which organises the annual sustainability-focused Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Kruse was speaking at the latest instalment of the event — held in the Danish capital’s Koncerthuset — in front of an assemblage of fashion leaders and sustainability experts from around the world, many of whom shared her frustration with the industry’s lack of action on the issue.

To be sure, fashion’s attention span is short — and, when it comes to sustainability, talk can be cheap. “If we had to go to yet another conference where we hear pledges, promises, targets to achieve, discussions on what it will look like, we will all become old before it actually happens,” said Livia Firth later in the day, echoing Kruse’s frustration.

(…)

The Circle at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and the first report on fashion wages

That future fashion must necessarily evolve towards a more ethical and sustainable dimension is a fact. Numerous brands have already adopted solutions in this vein. And initiatives and organizations fighting for equality in fashion from all points of view, starting with workers’ rights, are growing steadily.

On the occasion of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit held on May 11, 2017, The Circle presented its first report on wages in the global fashion industry. The NGO founded by Annie Lennox and Livia Giuggioli, the wife of actor Colin Firth, examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector and concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right, which all States are obliged to guarantee.

(…)

Download the full report here: Fashion Focus – The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage

You can also use the link below:

You can keep up to date on our living wage campaign at our Living Wage Project hub, where you can also make a donation to help fund this important work.


The Circle Calls for Three-trillion-dollar Fashion Industry to Pay Living Wage

 
A substantive report into wages in the global fashion industry is launched today at The Copenhagen Fashion Summit by fashion campaigner Livia Firth, human rights barrister Jessica Simor QC and journalist Lucy Siegle—all members of the women’s rights organization The Circle. Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector through a legal lens. It concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right which all states are obliged to guarantee.

This is the first such report from The Circle, founded by Annie Lennox, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, human rights and social justice campaigner, who says, ‘I’m enormously proud that The Circle has produced this seminal report on the fundamental right of a Living Wage in the global fashion supply chain. It’s a strong piece of work that reflects the core purpose and mission of The Circle: women using their skills, expertise, networks and passion to help support and transform the lives of women and girls around the world’.

Masterminded by Jessica Simor QC, one of the UK’s leading specialists in human rights and public law, the report takes evidence from fourteen major garment hotspots across the globe, where the bulk of our fashion is produced. A network of legal professionals based in those countries each provide an up-to-date snapshot of wages and working conditions. Using this evidence, and working with industry experts such as The Clean Clothes Campaign and The Fair Wage Network, Simor and her team join the dots between international law, the fashion industry and human rights.

The report makes the legal case for Living Wage as a human right. It shows that living wages—remuneration sufficient to support the basic needs of a family and a decent life—have been recognised in international law for more than a century. Yet the fast fashion sector remains synonymous with poverty wages, directly affecting the 75 million garment workers in the supply chain, 85% of whom are women.

Livia Firth (Creative Director of Eco-Age, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and The Circle founding member) says: ‘It is today widely accepted that neither cheap clothes, nor vast corporate profits can justify the human suffering which is today involved in fast fashion supply chains. I consider this ground-breaking report as the beginning of a new era for the fashion industry where we will be able to treat garment workers as equals’.

Jessica Simor, QC says, ‘At the moment retailers and brands actively promote the fact that they pay minimum wage. But what we demonstrate in this report is that this is no answer. In none of the countries surveyed does the minimum wage come anywhere close to the living wage on any scale’.

‘Compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, by reference to the fundamental right to a living wage and principles of international labour law established nearly a century ago can put an end to the race to the bottom, stopping states from selling their people’s labour at less than the price of a decent life’.

Journalist and fashion activist Lucy Siegle says, ‘Working with lawyers of this calibre gives us the opportunity to broaden fashion advocacy. We urgently need new architecture for the global garment industry and we hope that this represents a substantial step forward on a living wage’.

Download the full report here: Fashion Focus – The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage

You can also use the link below:

You can keep up to date on this work at our Living Wage Project hub, where you can also make a donation to help fund this important work.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle

The Circle is a registered charity founded by Annie Lennox working to achieve equality for women in a fairer world. The Circle brings women from all walks of life together so that they can share stories and knowledge of the injustice and inequality many women across the globe face and take action to bring about the necessary change. Within The Circle is The Lawyers Circle—a network of women in the legal profession who lend their skills, network and resources to support and promote the rights of marginalized women worldwide. Those involved include senior partners, QCs, in-house lawyers and solicitors who work to promote and assist the rights of women in developing countries.

For more information about The Circle contact Sioned Jones, Executive Director (sioned@thecircle.ngo).

Livia Firth

Livia Firth is the creative director of Eco-Age (a brand consultancy company specialized in sustainability) and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge (Eco-Age communication arm). Livia Firth has executive produced, with Lucy Siegle, The True Cost—a documentary which highlights the environmental devastation and social justice implications of fast fashion worldwide. The movie is available on Netflix and on The True Cost website.

Lucy Siegle

British journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle is author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and has spent ten years investigating the global fashion supply chain.

The Fair Wage Network

The Fair Wage Network was founded by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead and Auret van Heerden with the aim to regroup all the actors involved along the supply chain and present in the CSR arena who would be ready to commit themselves to work to promote better wage practices. The idea is to set up an interactive and dynamic process involving NGOs, managers, workers’ representatives and researchers.

The Clean Clothes Campaign

The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global alliance of organisations which campaigns to promote and protect the fundamental rights of garment workers worldwide. One of its three key objectives is to campaign for a real living wage and over recent years it has been campaigning alongside workers’ organizations across Asia for the acceptance and implementation of an Asia Floor Wage.