Vice News reporters Zinara Rathnayake and Ruby Lott-Lavigna investigate a huge outbreak of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, linked back to a garment factory that routinely manufactures for huge Western apparel brands like GAP, Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, and Marks & Spencer, among other brands. Gap and Marks & Spencer are among the 40 brands tracked by PayUpFashion on our Brand Tracker, as is Calvin Klein under its holding group, PVH.
Since a single case was first detected at the Brandix factory and ignored in September, more than 10,000 coronavirus cases have been linked back to the cluster at the factory – half the national total. And 56 people have since died from COVID in Sri Lanka. The factory is operated by Brandix Apparel Limited, one of the largest clothing manufacturers in South Asia, employing over 55,000 people across India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
These garment workers, the reporters found, sew for huge corporations while working in substandard conditions. They “work in overcrowded rooms with poor ventilation, on tightly packed production lines where social distancing is next-to impossible, often without protective gear, for a monthly base salary of roughly $110.” As the reporters also note: “The relentlessly increasing demand for affordable fashionable clothes under lockdown in the West is putting supply chain workers [at risk]… and exposing whole countries to potential new outbreaks.”
PayUpFashion coalition members Remake, and its founder (and PayUp Fashion co-author) Ayesha Barenblat, is featured in the story, as is Stand Up Movement, a workers’ rights nonprofit in Sri Lanka. Barenblat told the reporters that deregulation is what’s leading to low wages, long working hours and sometimes unsafe conditions. “But It does not have to be this way,” said Barenblat, referring to the 7 Actions of the PayUp Fashion campaign. The major brands, “can pay living wages,” she said. “They have the leverage to support collective bargaining, enforceable contracts with built in worker protections and regulations. Only then will workers no longer remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.”
Ashila Dandeniya, founder of the Stand Up Movement, told Vice that Brandix was negligent in its response and brands have the power to intervene. “I guess we will never find out about how it began. Brandix neglected it when their workers started showing symptoms. No one is even willing to start this conversation. Our last resort is to write to the brands,” she said.