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Stop that bleeding

Deborah Lucchetti[1] coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign

The media has recently published the economic results of high-tech giants gathered in the new report on software and web companies realized by Area studi Mediobanca.

The sector is in excellent health, in fact it has probably never been so flourishing thanks to the blessing of the pandemic that has pushed the turnover of online commerce to staggering figures.

In the first six months of 2021, giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Alibaba, to name just a few of the 25 analyzed, increased aggregate revenue by 31.1% and profits by 80.2%. 

Every day they pocket net profits of 27 million euros, yes, you got that right, while at the same time in two last years they have saved in taxes, i.e. money that could have financed public services and social security, something like 24.5 billion euros. Stuff that would make you jump in your chair.

Among the digital brands mentioned, Amazon and Alibaba also trade fashion and clothing products, online goods that have never stopped during the pandemic, as the logistics centers that sort them h24, up to 7 days a week, have always remained open.

So consumers locked up in their homes, bored and disoriented, ordered perfumes, toys, shoes and clothes, while logistics workers risked becoming infected by working without safety measures while delivery men and riders ploughed through the deserted streets of the metropolis, covering the last mile that separates the logistics corridors from our doorstep.

While Amazon, Alibaba and many fashion brands were grinding out online orders and turnover thanks to our clicks, millions of female textile factory workers in the countries of production were suffering staggering wage theft. The Clean Clothes Campaign calculated what happened  in the first year of the pandemic in 7 key countries of global textile-clothing production: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Well, according to conservative estimates and extrapolating data on workers primarily connected to exports, then to the global supply chains that feed the digital platform giants, activists have estimated that 50 million workers have lost at least 10 billion euros, in wage cuts and unpaid benefits.

The report also estimates that at least 1.6 million female workers have been dismissed, without notice, severance pay or other forms of compensation. All of this in countries where there are almost no social safety nets and governments do not guarantee citizens shock absorbers capable of protecting them during crises.

That’s why the #PayYourWorkers campaign was born, now supported by more than 200 organizations including unions and human rights associations, which asks the fashion industry, including digital distributors, to sign an agreement to return what is due to workers.

Mind you, this would be a contingent measure and in any case insufficient, given that those workers were already earning starvation wages before the pandemic, but we have to start from here.

Going back to Amazon, whose profits in 2020 increased by 84% for a net worth of 314.9 billion dollars, and retracing backwards its supply chain, we encounter, for example, 1,200 workers of Global Garment, a highly unionized factory in Bangladesh and perhaps precisely for this reason closed last October leaving the workers without work, wages and benefits.

Or the 1,020 female workers at Hulu Garment in Cambodia who were scammed and fired after signing a document that contained a voluntary resignation clause and allowed the company to keep $3.6 million in severance pay, money that belonged to the workers.

Of course, the gigantic wage theft from female workers in the industry is not only to be blamed on the giants of digital capitalism. During the pandemic, for example, the 1,200 Cambodian female workers at Violet Apparel, a supplier of Nike, were suddenly left home without receiving a $343,174 benefit.

And they’re not the only ones: research by the Clean Clothes Campaign shows that more than 7,000 workers in the supply chain of #Nike suffered wage deprivation after mass layoffs during the pandemic.

So let’s recap. The high-tech giants in the first six months of 2021 racked up profits for 27 million euros on average every day. Amazon alone, in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, made net profits of more than 18 billion, or more than 50 million on average per day.

Jeff Bezos would therefore only need to draw on the profits matured in little more than half a day to give back to the 1,020 workers of the Hulu Garment at least their severance pay. The shareholders of Nike are no different. In the first quarter of 2021, they were able to celebrate profits for $1.5 billion. It would take less than 5% to pay the accrued and unpaid benefits to the workers in Cambodia, less than 1% (0.02%) to settle the accounts, minimal and net of damages, with the workers of Violet Apparel.

Cold and almost unspeakable numbers, but they represent in a plastic way the ferocious strategy of value extraction that bleeds workers along the undisturbed trajectories of global value chains. A perpetual motion from bottom to top that must be stopped, forcing companies to sign binding agreements that will halt the ongoing hemorrhage of rights and redistribute wealth.

Signing the petition for the PayYourWorkers campaign is a first direction towards this objective.

[1] Other posts of the author in Blog OpenCorporation:

Gli sfruttati della moda usa-e-getta Published 19 Aprile 2021 and Fast fashion’s exploited workers Published 20 Aprile 2021

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