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Pop around Town:Fashion Brands #PayUp

【明報專訊】Around the world, with lockdown and various other restriction policies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have suffered tremendously. One of them is the global fashion industry. In March 2020, reports began circulating about a severe crisis facing the fashion industry, because the pandemic was devastating fashion's global supply chains and threatening up to 60 million garment workers worldwide. Bangladesh has been one of the countries whose workers make clothes for the global market, such as the well-known brands Levi's and Gap.

The devastation to the industry started with the lockdown restrictions in China in late 2019. This caused delays in raw material shipments into Bangladesh and increased costs overall. Then, according to The Centre for Global Workers' Rights, similar restrictions began to spread to the rest of the world, forcing many fashion brands and retailers to close their doors for an indefinite period of time. Facing major losses, they began to defer payments for already-produced orders from supplier factories in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam. By mid-March, as the scale and seriousness of the pandemic became clear, brands started to abruptly cancel both future orders and orders in progress. These cancelled payments, from retail giants like the European brand Primark, have had dire consequences for supplier companies and their employees. Orders worth billions of dollars have been cancelled.

Human rights groups and consumer groups have expressed concern over the hardship these events have caused millions of garment workers from the developing world. The social media campaign called #PayUp was launched in late March to call on fashion consumers to help ease the plight of workers. The campaign demands fashion brands to commit themselves to paying for the back orders. So far, the #PayUp hashtag has been used in over 77,000 posts on Instagram. With the help of some fashion celebrities, the campaign has received over 260,000 signatures in the petition to ask the fashion industry to act ethically.

No one is sure about the impact of #PayUp or other similar campaigns underway, because while some companies like Levi's and Gap have been committed to the pledge, others remain silent. Fortunately, Primark has announced it will create a fund to help pay the wages of the workers affected by its cancellation of clothing orders. The global call for caring about the devastations to marginalised groups due to the pandemic must continue.

■Writer's Profile

John Erni is a university professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.He thinks everyday culture is complex but always enchanting.

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