Research by the Clean Clothes Campaign found that wage theft during the pandemic has occurred in Nike, Primark, and H&M’s supply chains.
The report said the major brands are clearly not doing enough to protect workers from the financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis, and while none had broken any laws, they had failed to ensure that their workers were properly paid throughout the pandemic.
Interviews with dozens of garment workers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh discovered many had experienced periods in the last year when they had not been paid their full wages. Of 49 workers interviewed, more than half said they were paid less than before the pandemic.
The Clean Clothes Campaign said workers faced increasing production targets amid a trend of mass layoffs and lack of overtime pay.
Before the pandemic, wages in the garment industry were at notoriously low levels for decades and most workers were not able to meet their basic needs and live with dignity.
Even when workers were paid the minimum wage in production countries, this amount fell far short of the wages needed to support a worker and their family.
In 2020, global fashion brands cancelled billions of pounds of clothing orders placed with supplier factories as coronavirus lockdowns shuttered high streets across the world.
There is a growing body of evidence that “wage theft” of poorly paid workers has occurred at a significant scale throughout the pandemic, linked to many of the world’s largest fashion brands. A Worker Rights Consortium report in April estimated that total severance theft during Covid-19, across the supply chains of global brands and retailers, was US$500m to US$850m (£360m-£620m).
“Brands have continued to profit and can afford to pay workers. They have the power and responsibility to make sure workers in their supply chains are being paid,” said Meg Lewis, lead author of the Clean Clothes Campaign’s report.
“Wages in the garment industry are already set at poverty levels so any drop in pay is a huge factor in workers’ lives. It shouldn’t be the workers who are paying for this pandemic.”
All the brands named in the report acknowledged that the pandemic had been devastating for the global fashion industry.
H&M and Nike said that workers in their supply chains had all been compensated in accordance with local legal requirements on wages. Primark said it was taking the findings of the report seriously and would welcome receiving any evidence of wage problems at the supplier factories named in the report.
After suffering losses in the first half of 2020, Nike, H&M and Primark have all returned to making considerable profits. In November 2020, Primark’s owner, Associated British Foods, reported a £914m profit before tax for 2020. H&M Group announced an operating profit of 3,099m kronor (£262m) for 2020, and Nike’s net income for the year to May 31, 2021, was US$5.7bn (£4.2bn). (Source: The Guardian)