The weakest link, garment workers.

Fast Fashion When the supply chain began to be established many years ago, the industry's way of operating was to produce clothing at low costs. In other words, bring trends to stores as quickly as possible. This started in the early 19th century, but it was not until the technological revolution that the concept of fast fashion caught on. During the second half of the 20th century, retail began to position itself with the arrival of brands such as Topshop (1964), Zara (1975) and Forever21 (1984), which positioned this business model, fast fashion. Thus, with globalization and technology, advertising became massive, consumption multiplied, and that brought with it shorter production and delivery times, and an excessive amount of clothing made with very cheap labor, at the cost of safety and the well-being of the garment workers. Zara is a pioneer in the concept of fast fashion, in which products arrive in stores two days a week. H&M and Forever21 receive daily shipments, while Topshop introduces 400 new styles per week on its website. Fast fashion retailers rarely own the factories that supply their products. The vast majority of orders for clothing and footwear are outsourced from suppliers in emerging markets, especially in Asia where overhead is cheap and the cost of human labor is even cheaper.

Most suppliers are located in countries that may be the most vulnerable to major global economic crises, such as India, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, which is the second largest exporter of apparel after China. Bangladesh has seen more than $2.8 billion USD in canceled or postponed orders since the start of the coronavirus crisis Ready-made garments represent 84 percent of Bangladesh's total exports, worth 40.5 billion USD. Ananta Group, in Bangladesh, owns seven factories with a total of 26,000 workers. The company supplies brands including H&M, Zara, Gap, Levi’s, and Marks & Spencer. To understand the importance: In the garment sector, which provides 80 percent of the country's export earnings, retail factories are currently an essential industry, and most are currently closed. 70 percent of workers have been sent home without pay.

In the global fashion industry, brands often pay their suppliers weeks or even months after delivery, rather than on demand. This means that suppliers generally pay in advance for the materials or fibers used so brand can buy products from them. In response to the pandemic, many of the major fashion brands and retailers are canceling orders and suspending payments of orders that have already been made, even when the work has already been done, without taking responsibility for the impact this has on people who work in their supply chains. Some 1,089 garment factories in Bangladesh have had orders of approximately $1.5 billion USD canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Poverty is also a deadly factor, many more people die from poverty than from COVID-19 in vulnerable countries. H&M also warned that it will have to cut jobs; The pandemic has closed more than two-thirds of its 5,000 stores worldwide and has threatened owners with the possibility of leaving leases ahead of time if sales do not start to recover. In Bangkadesh alone, 4.1 million workers are no longer employed. "For them, Western retailers, it's about business survival, for us, it's the survival of our 4.1 million workers." "Our situation is apocalyptic: Bangladesh garment workers face ruin." "The new coronavirus is potentially disastrous for the low-wage workers driving the global clothing trade." Says Rubana Huq, President of the Bangladesh Clothing Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Another very important thing is that the work of artisans is the second largest source of employment in the so-called developing world. It is estimated that there are around two billion informal workers worldwide who lack basic labor, social and health protections. The result that COVID-19 represents is the threat to global trade flows, worker cooperatives, artisan groups, local artisan communities, homeworkers, agricultural workers, and land laborers facing desperate economic circumstances. . Obviously we see that the problem is not only in Asia. Workers at the lowest levels and those who freelance or are subcontracted are the most unprotected. Photographers, makeup artists, stylists, designers, etc. They do not have health insurance, there are no insured wages, it is difficult for the government to consider them in the groups of employees that are protected with bonuses. The opportunity that large companies have on one hand is to act ethically, which at the end of the day will pay in terms of loyal workers and loyal consumers as well. H&M stated in an article that it is coming to the rescue of the workers. No, there are no heroes here, right now is about doing the right thing. Companies must comply with their pre-established commitments. Us as consumers must demand that these companies protect all these people as if they were their employees. Just because they're out of their offices doesn't mean they don't work with them. There is also an opportunity to gradually change the system in order to decentralize and bring production closer to home. But for now, the responsible thing to do is to take care of the weakest, which companies have benefitted from for many years.


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Carolina Chávez's clothing: Everlane jacket and white Goodwill t-shirt.