BoF Logo

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

Garment Worker Wage Theft Widespread in Wake of Pandemic

Workers at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Getty Images

A new investigation into wage theft among garment workers covering eight factories that supply 16 major international fashion brands has uncovered 9,843 workers who are fighting to have their wages and legally-owed benefits paid, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

The factories in questions were located in Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and supplied brands including Carter’s, Hanes, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Lidl, L Brands, Matalan, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, Next, New Look, Nike, PVH, River Island, Sainsbury’s, s.Oliver and The Children’s Place.

Combined, the 16 fashion brands named in the report amassed $10 billion in profit in the second half of 2020. Of these brands, all except Carter’s, The Children’s Place and Matalan responded to the BHRRC investigation, with brands such as Nike, H&M and PVH denying having a current relationship with some of the suppliers named, and also outlining due diligence steps that have been undertaken in order to protect the welfare of workers in other factories they do currently work with.

Nevertheless, in all but one of the eight cases, at least a portion of wages, benefits and severance are still owed to workers months after they were due to be paid. According to BHRRC, this highlights a significant gap between company commitments to ensure full payment of wages and benefits and implementation in factories. Three cases remain unresolved, in five other cases, workers received a portion of what was owed, and in just one case workers have now received the full amount owed to them.

The pandemic has made the already precarious situation for garment workers, most of whom are women in low-income countries, demonstrably worse. Research from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) shows garment workers’ average wages have decreased over the past 12 months by over a fifth (21 percent) from an average of $187 per month to $147.

This represents drift away from the stated goal many fashion companies have to ensure workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage. According to BHRRC research, the minimum wage in 12 major apparel exporting countries is, on average, over four times less than the amount workers need to live on.

“Payment of living wages as an industry standard would level the playing field for fashion brands and be transformative for workers – not only for a just recovery from the pandemic, but also to prevent the scale of crisis from repeating again,” Thulsi Narayanasamy, senior labour rights lead at BHRRC, said.

In This Article

© 2022 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

More from Global Markets
On the ground intelligence and analysis from emerging and frontier markets.

South Korea is one of the world’s leading exporters of beauty products but the narrow definition of ‘K-beauty’ in international markets means many exciting brands in Seoul have yet to go global.

The apparel and footwear market in Colombia rebounded faster than in Brazil or Mexico, but Chile and Peru may not recover to pre-pandemic sales levels for years. Where are the region’s next growth opportunities?

Brands are partnering with Lagos-based talent to help them navigate the complexities of the country’s billion-dollar fashion market and create a ripple effect across the African continent.

view more

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
The Complete Guide to Managing Markdowns
© 2023 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy and Accessibility Statement.
The Complete Guide to Managing Markdowns