I feel like fashion's response to Covid-19 is a bit tone deaf?
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
With everything going on in the world it feels like everyone is trying to do their part; quarantining, giving money to worthy causes, donating food/supplies to anyone who needs it. I've seen a countless number of celebrities and CEOs donating millions of dollars to noble charities. I commend them!
This bandwagon has been joined by fast fashion companies that have somehow pulled together huge sums of money to donate in the name of the Covid-19 fight. The same brands who couldn't find it in their budget to pay their garment workers a fair wage, and dodged question about the safety of their factories. The same companies that have been trailed with child labor accusations, sexual abuse accusations, fire code violations, just to name a few.
More and more reports are surfacing that detail the dire situation that garment workers face as companies are shutting down production amid the Covid-19 crisis. Many fear that not only will these garment workers be jobless, but they won't have the basic means to access food, water, or shelter. As many of these companies are using their factories to make these PPE products, there is little known about how many garment workers they are employing, or if their notoriously dangerous facilities abide by the WHO Covid-19 safety standards. Major fashion brands like Zara, Gap Inc., Walmart, etc. have cancelled $3 billion worth of orders amid Covid-19. Garment workers have been sent home with no severance or healthcare. As we've seen companies come out of the woodwork with major donations, I financially and morally don't understand their lack of compassion for their workers. We've been told countless times that companies just don't have the budget to pay garment workers well, but during this crisis they've found a way to dish out 10s of millions of dollars.
We have to remember that this power dynamic is built on the privilege of the rich, the lack of empathy for the poor, uneducated, non-white worker, and the intensification of monetary greed from those at the top.
H&M is one of the biggest violators of human rights and destroyers of the environment, has mustered up a mere $500,000 to send to Covid-19 response funds. Not to mention how little this donation is in comparison to their almost $30 billion market cap. H&M has failed over and over again to fulfill their goals of giving fair-wages. They have 'vowed' to continue to pay their suppliers throughout the crisis, but they've seldom fulfilled any 'vows' in the past. In 2013 H&M 'committed' to paying their garment workers a fair wage by 2018. In 2018 the third party auditing group, The Clean Clothes Campaign, interviewed 62 garment workers and found that none of them were making a living wage to support themselves or their family. And lest not forget, this is the same company that pictured a black child with a sweatshirt that said "coolest monkey in the jungle".
Nike has donating a whopping $17 million dollars to Covid-19 response efforts worldwide. This is no small number, take note H&M. This company has championed athletic wear, ad diversity, profits, as well as habitually employing children, breaking unions, and exploiting workers. I'd suggest allocating a small portion of those donations to the garment workers who have long been underpaid and exploited. Not to dismiss the noble causes that that desperately need that $17 million, I'm more questioning, where was this money when garment workers were asking for a living wage?
Fashion Nova has teamed up with Cardi B to give $1,000 away every HOUR until May 20 to fans who are in need. This is amazing and I love Cardi so it's even more amazing. But somewhere in those thousands and thousands of dollars they're giving, I think about the New York Times article that uncovered their underpaid workforce in a California factory. Fashion Nova has employed primarily undocumented workers who are less likely to challenge their boss. These types of US based sweatshops sometimes pay their workers as little as $2.77/hour. Sadly this is not the US garment industry revival we were looking for. With a company with a net worth over $450 million and relationships with influencers that can charge $1 million to post a picture on Instagram of them wearing a Fashion Nova fit, I find it disheartening to see workers being left out of their charitable givings.
LVHM has ownership over iconic fashion/cosmetic/alcohol brand like, Louis Vuitton, Dior, RiRi's Fenty, Sephora, and even Moët Chandon. The owner of LVHM is Bernard Arnault who has a net worth of $90.5 billion. Casual. You'd think that with a conglomerate that heavily funds the CEO's workers would be well taken care of in a crisis like the one we're seeing today. But no, Arnault tried to get government assistance from the France government before facing backlash as he is the 3rd richest person on earth. Although he has donated ventilators and got his French factories to start making non-surgical masks (yay!), he has furloughed thousands of workers. Sephora furloughed 3,000 US workers in one day in a conference call where you could hear employees crying while being told they're laid off. Amid this crisis Arnault even got an $11 billion dollar pay day when stock he invested in went up. It seems like that LVHM can be doing more. Much more.
Obviously this Covid-19 crisis is unprecedented and I don't want to discourage companies from donating to as much money as they can to as many causes as they can. Please give! give! give! But this crisis has shed light on how little major fashion companies care about their employees at the end of the supply chain. It's in many ways disrespectful to allow your workers to barely scrape by, and then miraculously come up with millions to readily give away. After years of horrific accusations that range from locked emergency exits to rape, these companies can put together huge sums of money.