Who we fight for: Mostly women garment workers
How we rise: Citizens who signed the original #PayUp Petition
Our Impact so far: dollars unlocked in unpaid contracts
The #PayUp campaign formed in March 2020 out of the fashion industry’s catastrophic decision to refuse payment for completed clothing orders heading into the COVID-19 pandemic.
When retail stores were shuttered and fashion sales were in free-fall in March of 2020, dozens of global brands refused to pay for an estimated $40 billion worth of finished goods that garment workers had spent countless hours sewing, according to research by the Worker Rights Consortium and PennState Center for Global Workers’ Rights Director Mark Anner. Millions of garment workers were laid off globally without pay as a direct result of the cancellations, sending them into the gravest economic crisis of our lifetimes without their paychecks or any savings.
#PayUp built a global coalition of garment workers, experienced labor rights groups, NGOs, and fashion activists.
For two decades, garment workers have been working with NGO allies like Clean Clothes Campaign, United Students Against Sweatshops, and the Worker Rights Consortium to hold apparel brands accountable and support garment workers’ rights. When brands responded to the pandemic with massive retroactive cancellations of orders, U.S. consumer activist non-profit Remake spearheaded the demand that brands #PayUp the billions they owe, joined forces with CCC and other advocate groups, and a global movement was born.
Strengthened by the power of social media, the #PayUp campaign went viral over the summer of 2020, with citizens all around the world using the #PayUp hashtag and over 270,000 people signing the original #PayUp petition.
As of December of 2020, the #PayUp campaign, using relentless protesting and petitioning, and citizen and worker solidarity, has helped to recoup at least $15 billion (according to WRC/Mark Anner estimates) owed to garment factories worldwide from over a dozen major fashion companies, including Zara, Gap Inc. and Next. Without the help of #PayUp, it’s estimated that millions more workers would have lost their jobs without pay or any sort of social safety net. The campaign’s success is because of people like you who signed a petition, fired off a #PayUp tweet, or protested outside stores in solidarity with garment workers.
Building on this victory, there is much more to be done.
Many brands, despite returning to profitability by the fall of 2020, still refuse to #PayUp, and factories continue to underpay workers on a massive scale. In the months after the pandemic began, brands began to drastically cut the prices paid to factories, triggering a corresponding increase in hunger and food insecurity and an increase in union-busting and gender-based violence among garment workers. The fact that our fight continues for basic human rights and economic justice for garment workers demonstrates an urgent need to build back better, assuring a fashion future that centers workers, citizens and our planet. That is where the story of PayUp Fashion, a long-term campaign for systemic reform to advance labor rights, and our 7 demands begins.
What’s the solution?
The future of fashion must include social protection and safety nets for garment workers. Wages for garment workers must be high enough to establish savings, and all workers must have access to health care and educational services. To get there, the PayUp Fashion coalition formed to devise a platform for change, encapsulated in our 7 actions on the home page. Among the demands, we call for binding rather than voluntary agreements to oversee the fashion industry; we call for legal and policy reform to reign in corporate power, share profits with workers, and hold brands accountable; we call for living wages along the supply chain. Post COVID-19, returning to business as usual is not an option. Our planet cannot sustain fashion’s hyper-growth and disposable consumption model at the cost of workers and our planet. It’s time for a new paradigm. The only future for the fashion industry is a sustainable, inclusive, and economically empowered one. These are not new or disputed goals. But they can no longer wait.
Who we are
PayUp Fashion was initiated in the fall of 2020 by members of the #PayUp campaign, including Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat and journalist and author Elizabeth L. Cline, to build on the momentum of the viral #PayUp campaign. The 7 demands for change are co-authored by Barenblat, AWAJ Foundation Executive Director Nazma Akter, Stand Up Lanka Sri Lanka Director Ashila Niroshi, and Elizabeth L. Cline, and were developed with the input of more than a garment workers and unions, as well as labor rights, legal, policy and industry experts around the world. By signing the petition on the home page, citizens become part of the growing PayUp Fashion movement for a just and resilient fashion industry.
PayUp Fashion stands in solidarity with retail workers and worker rights movements globally, Black Lives Matter and the movement for Black representation and inclusion in fashion. We also stand in solidarity with the broader movement for environmental and climate justice. A majority of garment workers are women of color who earn poverty wages and are on the frontlines of fashion’s environmental impacts. We can no longer wait for environmental, racial, and economic justice for fashion’s most essential workers.
How to get involved
The most immediate way you can help is to sign the Petition on the home page at PayUpFashion.com, urge your friends and colleagues to sign, and share your support on social media. This petition triggers an email to fashion executives and CEOs informing them of our 7 demands and the urgent need for reform. Please continue to tag brands using the #PayUp hashtag on social media that need to #PayUp by referencing our Brand Tracker. We will continue to update the website with new ways to get involved in the coming weeks and months.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who is behind PayUp Fashion?
We are a global coalition of garment workers, labor organizers, researchers and citizen activists, who believe that centering workers and our planet is the future of fashion. We work alongside other garment worker advocacy groups to meet shared goals. PayUp Fashion and website is led by Remake and Ayesha Barenblat, the founder of Remake; author and #PayUp organizer Elizabeth L. Cine, and garment workers organizers Ashila Niroshi, founder of Stand Up Lanka; Nazma Akter, founder of AWAJ Foundation. PayUp Fashion was founded to galvanize citizen and worker action to make change; it is a non-hierarchical organization and anyone is invited to participate by signing the petition or supporting the campaign on social media.
How is PayUp Fashion different from other future of fashion roadmaps or ideas?
In short, our coalition is led by workers and labor rights advocates, and we are not led by brands or funded by brands. Most conferences, coalitions and multi-stakeholder initiatives and ethical and sustainable fashion are paid for and led by large brands and retailers. And yet, a quarter century of brand-led voluntary sustainability and labor rights initiatives have not made progress in protecting the rights and dignity of fashion’s most essential workers. Given the humanitarian crisis currently facing garment workers, and the looming climate crisis, we believe citizens and workers are far better equipped than for-profit business to determine what is most urgently needed to rebuild fashion in a way that centers people and our planet.
What is the timeline of the PayUp Fashion campaign?
We will keep organizing until we fulfill the 7 actions and reform is achieved. Through the rest of 2020, the PayUp Fashion movement will focus on Actions 1 (#PayUp) and 2 (Keep Workers Safe), as getting money in the hands of garment workers immediately is most urgent. We have a number of long-term campaigns planned for other Action points, and our ultimate goal is to see legal and political reforms in fashion and binding agreements that uphold garment workers’ rights and dramatically improve working conditions. We will alert the public and the media when are ready to share more details about these campaigns.
How did you come up with the 7 Actions?
The first phase of the campaign was the #PayUp movement of 2020 (and it’s the first of the 7 Actions), and it was born from the brand and retailer decision to invoke force majeure clauses, and cancel orders in suppliers factories that were already sewn and in some cases shipped. This pushed the financial fallout from closed stores and declining apparel demand onto vulnerable workers, many of whom lost their jobs without pay as a result. As dozens of brands still collectively owe almost $20 billion for cancelled orders, the first demand to #PayUp remains urgent. The remaining 6 Actions were written after months of stakeholder consultations with garment workers, union leaders, academics, human rights experts, labor organizers and legal experts. None of these demands are radical and there is a broad consensus surrounding them. While brands and retailers say that protecting human rights and providing good jobs in the supply chain is complicated, we think it’s achievable in the near-term by meeting these 7 Actions.
Can you explain the rationale of each commitment?
1. #PayUp: Relentless campaigning since March has resulted in 21 brands committing to #PayUp, unlocking upward of $22 billion in money owed to factories and garment workers globally. To be removed from the #PayUp tracker, a brand must honor original contracts without discounts or any changes in payment terms. There remain many brands from Topshop and Ross Dress for Less to URBN that still need to #PayUp.
2. Keep workers safe: Against the backdrop of COVID-19 and a softening of order demand, workers are being pushed into homelessness and food insecurity. Our $2.5 trillion dollar fashion industry must not forget fashion’s most essential workers. This demand requires that brands and retailers work with their factories through 2020 to ensure that workers receive wages and severance. Workers live paycheck to paycheck because of cost-cutting by brands and retailers. Brands and retailers must get money in the hands of garment workers, whether through negotiations with factories, offering low cost financing, philanthropic efforts or unlocking public monies. Moreover it is urgent that brands and retailers protect fashion’s essential workers that have kept them profitable for decades. Under the guise of COVID-19, workers are facing state sponsored violence when protesting for wages and a crack-down on unions. We ask brands to support workers rights to organize.
3. Transparency: 20 years of a for profit audit industry that treats brands as the customer has resulted in limited improvements. We call on brands and retailers to publicly share where their product is made (strategic factory locations), what the wages of the lowest paid workers in their supply chain are and how their product is made (factory audit results and corrective action data).
4. Give workers center stage: As we walk in various fashion weeks, Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Green Carpet Challenge and a variety of sustainability and future of fashion coalitions, conferences and webinars, we ask for 50% representation of women worker voices, who are the backbone of the fashion industry. For too long brand and retailer led initiatives from SAC to BSR, have centered the interests of business over people and the planet. Any future of fashion conversation must give workers center stage.
5. Sign enforceable contracts: COVID-19 has cracked wide open the unequal relationship between factories versus brands and retailers. It is common industry practice for factories to prepay for material costs and front labor costs. The pandemic has left cash strapped factories with unclaimed goods and mounting warehouse expenses and inability to pay workers. Going forward brands and retailers must sign enforceable contracts that center workers, including putting a percentage down upon signing contracts to assure wage payments without disruption, setting humane production and delivery schedules to ensure workers health and safety and responsible transition plans so that never again are workers left to bear the brunt of industry contractions. This is particularly important as the fashion industry automates.
6. End starvation wages: Retailers like JC Penney in coming out of bankruptcy proceedings have shored up payments to their shareholders and executives at the expense of garment workers. This is emblematic to how brands and retailers continue to shore up their own cash at the expense of workers. A root cause of fashion’s supply chain continuing to be plagued by modern day slavery and human rights abuses is the industry’s race to the bottom – paying workers merely $27 in Ethiopia a month to $96 in Bangladesh. The time for endless research and debating methodologies on how to pay workers more is over. We need brands to end starvation wages by paying #onedollarmore.
7. Help pass laws: A quarter century of voluntary sustainability commitments have not made progress fast enough. Brands and retailers public policy and lobbying efforts often conflict with their sustainability goals. Brands and retailers to support pro worker legislation as a way to truly address gender and climate justice within the fashion industry.