NZ consumers urged to help millions of garment factory workers

13:45 pm on 12 July 2020

Anti-poverty campaigners are calling on consumers to harness their power to help millions of workers in garment factories overseas.

Labourers wearing facemasks work in a garment factory during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Asulia, on the outskirts of Dhaka on April 7, 2020. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP

Covid-19 has meant a huge drop in demand for apparel, which in turn has devastated the fashion industry, causing the unemployment of more than 50 million workers, and many are facing starvation.

Consumers are being asked to question their favourite brands about whether the people making their clothes are being fairly paid.

Non-profit organisation Tearfund produces an Ethical Fashion Guide every year, grading brands according to their transparency. But this year, the report will be different when published in October.

Tearfund now wants consumers to ask brand owners whether their workers are getting fair pay and are asking local brands to meet six commitments to do with maintaining contracts with suppliers in a bid to support garment workers.

Tearfund chief executive Ian McInnes said half of the world's garment workers were back to work and many of them risking their lives to do so with Covid-19 cases growing by the day - particularly in Bangladesh. The country, which is a clothes-making hub, has seen $1.5 billion worth of orders cancelled.

"Consumers need to know these workers for so many years have been getting up everyday and making the garments we wear... their very survival and their family's are at risk right now," McInnes said.

Meanwhile, Mark Anner from Workers Rights Consortium is a professor in the US and has more than 30 years experience researching and visiting garment factories. He is also the co-creator of a world tracker which has been regulating and holding global brands to account since the pandemic, and director of the Center for Global Workers' Rights.

A notice on board tells about the factory shut down during the government imposed countrywide lock down amid concerns of coronavirus pandemic posing a risk of spreading Covid-19 in Dhaka. Photo: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto

The Worker Rights Consortium is an independent labour rights monitoring organisation focused on protecting the rights of workers who sew apparel and make other products sold in the United States.

Anner said garment workers were often young girls and women of colour, working 12 hours a day on a minimum wage. He said they were often unable to speak out about their workplace rights because only 2 percent of the industry have working unions.

"Speaking up, reaching out to those brands informing them very clearly that you expect them to pay up for their liabilities and supply chain obligations is a really important way consumers can make changes."

Currently the only regulators of the fashion industry were volunteer organisations and NGOs, he said, but governments world-wide had the power to create a better, more sustainable and secure future for garment factory workers.

According to the UN, the global fashion industry is worth an estimated $3.8 trillion annually. The fashion industry is also the second largest user of water world-wide, generating 20 percent of global water waste.

Regulators hope the fashion industry can get a social and sustainable makeover by implementing a living wage and creating unions for workers to speak up about abuse and working conditions.

Anner said sadly there had been very little change within the treatment of garment factory workers over the last 30 years. but consumers had the power to speak up and change this by contacting their favourite brands.

More than 60 percent of garment workers in Asia still faced verbal abuse and worked long hours for little pay and were pressured to make as many garments as they could, as fast as possible, he said.

"Workers can do less hours on a living wage if people buy less," he said.

He believed Covid-19 presented an opportunity for major changes around fairness and sustainability in the supply chain to occur.

Has Committed to Pay in Full for Orders Completed and in Production:




Inditex (Zara)


Levi Strauss & Co. for more info


Lululemon Athletica

Marks & Spencer



PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger)

Ralph Lauren Corporation (Polo)



Under Armour


VF Corp. (JanSport, The North Face, Vans, Timberland)

Has Made No Commitment to Pay in Full for Orders Completed and in Production:

Arcadia (Topshop)

Bestseller for more info

C&A for more info

Edinburgh Woolen Mill (Bonmarché, Peacocks)

Gap (Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic)


Kohl's for more info

Li & Fung/Global Brands Group


Primark for more info

Ross Stores for more info


The Children's Place

Urban Outfitters (Anthropologie)

Walmart (Asda)