by Deborah Lucchetti, the Coordinator of Clean Clothes Campaign
The Clean Clothes Campaign launches a new website dedicated to workers’ rights activists and consumers. The site shows where and under what working conditions our clothes are produced, because it is precisely the lack of transparency that has allowed brands to distance themselves from workers along the supply chain and evade their responsibilities to ensure decent wages and end exploitation in supply chains. The Fashion Checker platform contains information on 108 brands and hundreds of interviews with women and workers in five manufacturing countries.
In the face of a strong increase in demand for ethicality and sustainability in the fashion world, brands have responded with major marketing campaigns and extensive sustainability reports. Meanwhile, however, they have continued to ruthlessly seek increasingly lower prices for the production of their goods, forcing suppliers to work with reduced profit margins and squeezing the wages of workers already forced to live on the poverty line.
Starvation wages are often hidden in complex and secret supply chains. For decades, brands and distributors have been making profits through a low-cost, labour-intensive model. Lack of transparency has allowed brands to distance themselves from workers along the supply chain and evade their responsibilities to ensure decent wages and end exploitation in supply chains. It has also prevented workers from getting organised and demanding fair pay for their work by including in the bargaining process the main actors responsible for asymmetric value distribution along global supply chains: brands and distributors.
Companies often do not publish information about their supply chain because this would mean associating their brand with the poverty wages that all workers receive. This behaviour is irresponsible and cannot continue, which is why the need for accurate and up-to-date data on suppliers and wages actually paid along the supply chain has become urgent.
“We’ve never seen data on brand payments, on the prices they actually pay. Our director always says we’re at a loss. According to him, we should work even harder,” said a worker from Croatia.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inequalities in the fashion industry: brands cancel orders and unilaterally impose discounts on suppliers, forcing workers into misery. The crisis has, in fact, shattered the illusory image of sustainable and ethical fashion industry artfully created by brands in recent years. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the imbalances of power in supply chains that keep workers in a condition of poverty. All workers, without any accumulated savings, are victims without a network of factory closures and mass redundancies: the demand for a decent wage has never been more urgent, together with demand for effective social protection mechanisms.
The Fashion Checker website will increase transparency in the textile industry, shedding light on low wages, excessive overtime and endemic exploitation of the sector. It is the result of close collaboration with WikiRate, open data experts, on the aggregation and consolidation of information about the supply chain released by brands. Together with data collected by the CCC through questionnaires, field research, interviews and workers’ payrolls, data collected by, among others, by the Open Apparel Registry and OpenCorporates. The integration of other authoritative sources such as Wage Indicator, recognized experts in wage data collection, is also underway. Fashion Checker contains detailed information on wages, the conditions of women and migrants and in general the situation of all workers. Through the provision of questionnaires to companies, the new site takes stock of the public commitments of the major brands in the field of transparency, assessing the degree of adherence to the Transparency Pledge promoted by an international coalition of civil society organisations and trade unions. It also investigates the commitments made on wage policies, verifying the existence and soundness of public action plans to guarantee a living wage within reasonable and certain timescales to all workers in the supply chain, together with the adoption of credible standards for the calculation of decent wages in the countries of production. It also investigates, and this is a key element for bargaining in production countries, whether contracting companies adopt a method to isolate and exclude labour costs from trade negotiations with suppliers. The assessment is based on the actual results achieved in increasing wages for a significant number of workers. It therefore intends to measure the distance between declarations and facts.
It is estimated that the textile industry employs around 60 million workers, 80% of them women. Low wages have severely affected their ability to fight for better working conditions and fairer wages while maintaining the status quo.
In addition to the publication of the data, the Clean Clothes Campaign has also processed a number of requests for trademarks and public decision-makers. The main demands relate to the need to use transparent and reliable parameters for the calculation of living wages and the promotion of mandatory due diligence process related to human rights throughout the supply chain.
Despite increased transparency in recent years, activists are asking brands and public decision-makers to publish more data in accessible and usable formats to increase and speed up transparency processes in international supply chains. In 2019, out of 200 brands surveyed by the Fashion Transparency Index, only 35% published information on factories and top-level workshops in their supply chains.
It is also worth remembering that, according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, brands are obliged to assume their responsibilities in ensuring respect for human rights: nevertheless, in 2020 textile workers are still fighting for basic human rights.
The platform contains information on 108 brands and hundreds of interviews with women and workers in five producing countries: China, Indonesia, India, Croatia, Ukraine. The site will be constantly updated with information provided by the workers themselves and activists. This will allow consumers, public decision-makers and all stakeholders to check whether the promises and initiatives that brands claim to undertake contribute to achieving decent wages for all and sundry.
Fashion Checker aims to be an action-oriented information tool for human rights activists, citizens and workers. It aims to promote the prevention and resolution of human rights violations and the improvement of working conditions for millions of workers, through the publication of data on global supply chains that activate forms of public and independent supervision. To start a process of democratization of the global fashion chains and for a new season of centrality and emancipation of workers, the first and foremost actors of the immense wealth produced from which they continue to be excluded.