Without garment workers, there is no fashion — yet the fashion industry has long ignored and exploited these essential men and women.

Garment workers around the globe work tirelessly for us and for the fashion labels that we love without financial or legal security. Fashion brands earn hundreds of millions millions and sometimes billions in profits each year, and yet year after year, garment workers keep fighting for survival. It doesn’t have to be this way.

As garment workers, organizers, and fashion-lovers, we are saying enough. Ending exploitation and starvation wages in fashion demands bold action, visionary new laws, strong brand accountability, and centering workers voices. PayUp Fashion has developed these 7 Actions with the input of garment workers and experts in labor, law, and grassroots organizing. (Download PDF version of 7 Actions). 

We demand brands to report on their progress towards these 7 Actions publicly and transparently at least once a year. To see how brands are progressing, head to our Brand Tracker

Click through to read each of the 7 Actions

Action 1

Fashion brands and retailers must honor contracts with factories and #PayUp for all orders completed and in production or millions of garment makers will go hungry.

Our Demands for what brands can do:

(a) Brands must publicly commit to pay suppliers for orders placed before the pandemic, including those that were cancelled or paused as a result of coronavirus, in full and without asking for discounts.

(b) To be removed from the PayUp Fashion Brand Tracker, brands and retailers must #PayUp in a timely manner without extending payment terms unless low-cost financing can be offered.

(c) Those emerging from bankruptcy agree to pay for orders placed prior to bankruptcy. Companies that buy bankrupt retailers are required to #PayUp for any outstanding orders.

Action 2
Keep Workers Safe

The fashion industry must protect garment workers’ basic human rights and labor rights at all times. According to the Worker Rights Consortium, millions of garment workers have lost jobs, wages in some nations have fallen 21% on average, and nearly one-in-four have not received legally-mandated pay and severance during the pandemic. Most garment workers toil in countries without a social safety net and far too many still work in factories that are physically unsafe. With many brands returning to profitability by the end of 2020, we demand that brands #shareyourprofits and do their part to protect fashion’s most essential workers.

Our Demands for what brands can do:

(a) Support a Severance Guarantee Fund. While strengthening national social safety schemes is necessary, brands must fill in the gaps in benefits for garment workers in the meantime. We demand that brands pay #TenCentsMore per garment to the Severance Guarantee Fund. In alignment with the Clean Clothes Campaign network, PayUp Fashion calls on brands to protect laid-off garment workers by paying into a binding social safety net fund that kicks in when workers experience severance theft. #10centsmore 

(b) Get Direct Relief to Workers. Brands should also provide and push for direct financial relief to garment workers for income lost during the pandemic. This can be done either through brands’ own channels and foundations, through International Financial Institutions, or through international relief efforts such as the ILO Call to Action and the USAID Memorandum of Understanding. Brands must contribute or work through relief efforts and foundations to release an amount equivalent to 1% of their 2020 net revenue. Meeting this part of the demand is not a replacement for contributing to the Severance Guarantee Fund.

(c) Protect Democracy, Human Rights, and Freedom of Association. The fashion industry must uphold fundamental human and worker rights. Brands’ purchasing practices are often instrumental in either upholding or suppressing basic rights.

In Myanmar, brands must urge their suppliers to support workers’ rights to protest and participate in the civil disobedience movement against the military coup. Brands must halt orders from factories that support the military regime.

In China, brands must stop all sourcing of cotton from the Uyghur region and endorse the End Uyghur Forced Labour Call to Action.

Any brand found limiting the freedom of association or failing to support collective bargaining rights or other human rights of garment workers in their factories will automatically be ineligible for movement on Action 2 of the PayUp Fashion Brand Tracker.

(d) Protect and Expand the Bangladesh Accord on Fire & Safety. We are calling on all brands that are signatories to the original Accord to sign on to a new agreement that extends and expands the benefits of a binding agreement on workplace and building safety. 

Action 3
Go Transparent

Without transparency, raising standards and sustainability in fashion will remain illusive and human and labor rights abuses will persist under the cloak of darkness and secrecy. While some brands have moved towards publishing their supplier list, this is just a first step towards true transparency. Brands and retailers will not only immediately commit to providing annual data on where their clothes are made, but will also reveal how much workers are paid and treated in an easily accessible and public format. #showme

Our Demands for what brands can do:

(a) Factory list: Brands must disclose a list of cut and sew factories in the manufacturing phase of their supply chain, in alignment with the Transparency Pledge. Ultimately, brands should disclose additional levels of subcontractors, including textile mills and the farms where their cotton, wool, leather and other natural materials come from.

(b) Wages to factory workers: Disclose the wages of the lowest-earning workers at each factory, in accordance with the Fashion Checker’s demands to brands.

(c) Findings from factory social audits and corrective actions: Share audit and remediation reports publicly and make findings available to garment workers in audited factories.

Action 4
Give Workers Center Stage

There will be no more brand-led and brand-funded conversations about worker rights. Workers are their own best advocates. We want to see a year-over-year increase in unionized factories in brand supply chains. What’s more, any brand-funded major coalitions, organizations, and conferences shaping the future of fashion must ensure fair representation of women worker voices. #workersfirst

Our Demands for what brands can do:

(a) Brands must demonstrate an increase in number of garment makers covered by collective bargaining agreements and union representation on a year-over-year basis.

(b) Worker representation must extend to the governance structures of brand-funded multi-stakeholder initiatives like Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Better Work buyers forums, amfori, SEDEX, Fair Labor Association, FairWear Foundation, as well as major conferences and events that shape the ethical and sustainable fashion agenda and are funded by brands, including the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

Action 5
Sign Enforceable Contracts

Unenforceable agreements and voluntary codes of conduct written by brands and imposed on suppliers protect retailers, executives and shareholders while pushing risk onto already vulnerable garment and supply chain workers. The industy must commit to enforceable, legally-binding contracts and agreements that put #workersfirst and address the power imbalance in fashion that pushes financial risk onto suppliers and thus human rights and labor rights abuses onto workers. Under such agreements, mechanisms must be in place for workers to hold retailers and brands accountable and center workers as beneficiaries.

Our Demands for what brands can do:

(a) Commit to binding worker-driven agreements. Binding agreements in the private sector that oversee workplace safety and wage increases are a proven way to protect workers. Brands will commit to negotiations to enter into these agreements whenever they are advanced by workers and unions. Examples of these agreements include the Bangladesh Accord on Fire & Building Safety.

(b) Adopt the Buyer Code of Conduct. Brands will commit to and insert the American Bar Association working group’s Buyer Code into purchase order contracts, thereby commiting themselves to responsible brand purchasing practices that uphold the human rights of their supply chain workers. For the past 30 years, supplier codes of conduct, which are non-binding, developed by brands, and lack an effective role for worker representation, have pushed all responsibility onto factories and are ineffective at protecting garment makers. The Buyer Code is a crucial tool to correct this imbalance of power and obligates Brands to commit to the following:

– Responsible exits and force majeure events: Brands often cut and run from suppliers, without any obligation to the impacted garment workers. During Covid-19, brands cancelled orders without payment on shipped and finished goods, leading to catstrophic layoffs without pay. Often one-sided contracts imposed on factories protect these actions. The Buyer Code instead commits brands to mitigate the human rights impacts of decisions to leave or break contracts, to provide reasonable advance notice to Suppliers, and to pay its suppliers for any outstanding invoices and/or for costs already incurred, whether the brand is exiting the factory for human rights or commercial reasons.

– Fair prices and pro-worker payment terms: The fashion industry currently favors brands and retailers and operates on risk and debt that is borne by factories and in turn by garment makers. It is standard industry practice to not pay factories for 60, 90 or 120 days after order shipment, with factories bearing the up-front raw material and labor costs. Prices that brands pay to suppliers and real wages to garment workers have gone down in many countries in recent years, including Bangladesh, despite costs going up. The Buyer Code by contrast commits brands to negotiate to agree to a fair price for goods that covers all of the costs of production, including costs associated with upholding responsible business conduct. Any decisions on payment terms will be negotiated with the Supplier and agreed to only after ensuring that the payment terms would not trigger violations of the Buyer’s own human rights commitments.

– Humane production planning and delivery schedules: Often Buyers’ request unrealistic delivery times or last-minute changes to orders make it extremely hard for the Supplier to manufacture and deliver the goods without requiring workers to put in excessive overtime or subcontracting the work to another site. Under the Buyer Code (section 4), the Buyer commits to collaborating with Suppliers on an order timeline that allows both parties to uphold human rights and does not trigger excessive working hours or unauthorized and unregulated sub-contracting, which protects garment makers. 

Action 6
End Starvation Wages

Garment workers make rock-bottom wages and are on the brink of starvation and homelessness, while brands shore up millions for shareholders and executives. Studies confirm that brands cause poverty wages by paying low prices to factories. Companies must publicly commit to paying prices that lift workers out of poverty. #onedollarmore

Our Demands for what brands can do:

Resilience built into the fashion sourcing system will prevent workers from falling through the cracks in the first place. The future of fashion must include living wages: wages that are high enough for garment workers to meet basic needs for themselves and their families and establish savings. The #PayUp movement stands in solidarity with other labor rights groups who’ve been advocating and working towards a living wage for garment workers for years.

Action 7
Help Pass Laws

A quarter-century of voluntary efforts to reform the fashion industry have been ineffective. Brands and retailers must support rather than thwart the work of citizens and government to reform corporate power, labor laws, and trade deals.

Our Demands for what brands can do:

We need bold new policies and regulations that incentivize brands for supporting human and labor rights and holds corporations accountable for the harms they cause to supply chain workers. Brands and retailers will support rather than thwart and lobby against legal reforms to both corporate structures and supply chain due diligence. Laws in buying and supplying countries must establish the legal liability of companies for human rights violations in their supply chains and ensure that supply chain workers have access to effective remedy. These reforms include:

(a) Legal reforms that strengthen corporate accountability for garment makers in buying countries that hold brands and retailers responsible for human rights violations and wage theft in their supply chains. Examples include mandatory human rights due diligence introduced in the EU and California’s Garment Worker Protection Act proposed in 2021.

(b) Establish a regulatory body to regulate brand or “buyer” purchasing practices in supply chains. Ensure that the largest garment retailers’ are no longer able to apply abusive purchasing practices on their suppliers, but instead must respect principles of fair dealing in their relationships with suppliers, treat their suppliers lawfully, and cease to impose unilateral changes to contracts on suppliers.

(c) Reforming bankruptcy protocols to protect garment workers when suppliers are forced out of business.

(d) Reforming government bailouts to include garment and supply chain worker protections. The current system where brands shore up their own balance sheets and rely on public monies for bailouts without consideration for human rights must be corrected.

Examples include: California’s Garment Worker Protection Act, the French Duty of Vigilance Law, Germany’s proposed bill for supply chain due diligence, Indonesia’s Unemployment Scheme, Vietnam’s ratification of Collective Bargaining and proposed EU Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence legislation.


Ashila Dandeniya, Stand Up Lanka; Nazma Akter, AWAJ Foundation; Ayesha Barenblat, Remake; Elizabeth L. Cline, journalist / author