PayUp Fashion reached out to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in regards to a pandemic relief plan launched in 2020 that promised to “help hard-hit supply chain workers in Asia” and so far has fallen short. This MOU allowed big brand signatories that we Track to sign on, including Gap Inc., Levi’s, Nike, Target, VF Corporation (The North Face/Timberland), Walmart, among others, without making any real commitment to garment makers, whether financial or otherwise. The MOU was covered in the media as a relief effort and yet in November of 2020 PayUp Fashion received a copy of the MOU, at which point we were told there was no money attached to the initiative. We were forced to conclude that the iniative intentionally sought to mislead the American public and allies of garment makers. Now that the U.S. has a new President and USAID has new leadership under Samantha Power, a strogn human rights advocate, we reached out once again in hopes the signatories of the MOU will fulfill promises to garment makers.

Here’s the letter PayUp Fashion sent on May 5, 2021:

Dear USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Staff,

We are aware of your strong track record on upholding human rights. That is why we are writing on behalf of PayUp Fashion, a global coalition of 21 labor and consumer advocacy groups that brought together 275,000 citizens during the pandemic to fight for garment worker justice and corporate accountability. Seven months ago now, the former USAID administration signed a MOU with major Americans apparel retailers and industry groups that promised to “help hard-hit supply chain workers in Asia.” The companies who signed on include household names Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Company, Nike, Target, VF Corporation (owners of The North Face and Timberland), and Walmart, among others. We CC-ed them here to remind them of their commitment.

We are deeply concerned that, seven months after signing the MOU and 14 months after the start of the pandemic, no money or relief or any publicly-known benefits have come from this initiative to date, while garment workers’ lives are unraveling globally and the erosion of basic human rights and labor rights is on the rise. 

Adm. Power, under your new leadership, can you tell us if the USAID MOU will fulfill its promises to these workers? Will the USAID MOU coordinate or get direct financial relief to these nations and these workers?

We are deeply concerned that garment workers are returning hungry and desperate to apparel factories, which will undo decades of progress towards higher labor rights standards globally. It will become more difficult for American shoppers to trust that their clothes are made under ethical conditions.

As life returns to some glimmer of normalcy in the USA, the situation is very different in some garment-producing countries. Severance theft is now estimated at a half a billion dollars across garment-producing countries. Worker wages have dropped as much as 21%, according to some estimates. Here is the situation in the nations that the USAID MOU promised to help:

  • In Cambodia, lockdowns have forced workers to stay at home without pay. Many factories are also denying workers legally-owed benefits. Gap Inc., Nike and VF Corporation are major buyers in Cambodia. 

  • In Sri Lanka, members of our network of frontline labor organizations are seeing attacks on unionized workers, layoffs without payment of wages and bonuses, and more Covid-19 outbreaks in factories. Sri Lanka is a major supplier to Gap, Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, and Levi’s.

  • In Vietnam, a survey of workers shows that incomes fell sharply during the pandemic, and nearly 90% of workers couldn’t meet basic family needs, like buying food or water. Gender-based violence is on the rise, as are attacks on union employees. VF Corporation, Nike, and Levi’s are major buyers in Vietnam. 

  • In Bangladesh, it’s estimated that of the more than 350,000 garment workers who lost jobs last year, more than 85% did not receive their legally mandated wages and benefits. Over 80% of workers have experienced hunger. Walmart and Gap Inc. are major buyers in Bangladesh. 

International efforts to help garment workers have fallen short of providing what is so clearly needed: Funds and direct financial relief for workers in apparel-producing countries. The ILO Call to Action, a similar initiative, has only released money in one nation, Bangladesh, and it took over a year to do so, leaving millions of garment workers in the lurch. Few brands have given money directly to supply chain workers. And the amounts that have been given fall far short of what’s needed and what they can afford.

We expect the USA to take a leadership role in protecting the women in emerging nations who kept us affordably clothed and masked throughout this crisis and kept apparel brands and shareholders profitable through the pandemic. The USA is becoming a leader in enforcing human rights norms globally, and enforcing this MOU should be no exception.

Can you please let us know, under your leadership, what concrete steps is USAID planning to take to fulfill the MOU’s stated mission to alleviate hardship for apparel supply chain workers?


Elizabeth L. Cline and Ayesha Barenblat,

on behalf of the PayUp Fashion coalition