Garment Workers: The Heart and Soul of Fashion

Without garment workers, there is no fashion.  Fashion and human rights are inextricably linked. COVID-19 created significant setbacks for garment workers in the fashion industry in the fight for preserving their rights, significantly increasing fashion’s impact on people and the planet.

According to research by the Worker Rights Consortium and the Penn State Center for Global Workers’ Rights, brands refused to pay for approximately $40 billion worth of finished goods.

As a result, millions of garment workers were sent home, often without legally mandated pay or severance. The pandemic also left female garment workers, who make up around 85% of the workforce, at a greater risk of violence and sexual harassment. 

In March 2020, U.S. consumer activist non-profit, Remake, spearheaded the #PayUp campaign after many well-known brands in the fashion industry refused payment for completed clothing orders heading into the COVID-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2020, the campaign went viral, and a global movement was born. Over 270,000 people signed on to the first #PayUp petition. As of early 2021, the movement helped to recoup $22 billion owed to garment factories worldwide from over 21 major fashion companies including Zara, Gap and Next.

Over a year has passed since the campaign began, and the group has expanded, forming a coalition platform called PayUp Fashion, which has teamed up with garment worker organizations like AWAJ Foundation and the Garment Worker Center, as well as consumer NGOs like Remake, Extinction Rebellion, and Fashion Revolution.  

In October 2020, Ayesha Barenblat and Elizabeth Cline described the next phase of the PayUp campaign as,

A campaign to overhaul the apparel industry, pass much-need laws and regulations, fight for better wages, purchasing orders, and contracts — and above all put workers at the center of a stronger, more equitably fashion industry.” 

Image Source: Re/Make

PayUp Fashion is tracking 40 major fashion brands and retailers’ commitments toward meeting its 7 Actions to advance garment worker rights. These actions were developed with input from garment workers. The PayUp Fashion movement demands that retailers and brands transparently report on the following 7 actions annually: #PayUp, keep workers safe, go transparent, give workers center stage, sign enforceable contracts, end starvation wages, and help pass laws.

Millions of garment workers are still in critical need, and brand accountability is still urgently needed.

Unpaid wages, gender-based violence, and pandemic outbreaks continue to affect factories across the world. We must reinvent the future of fashion to include protection, fair wages, and access to health care and educational services for all garment workers.

Sign the petition at