What Is The PayUp Fashion Movement?
A Global Coalition Fighting For Garment Worker Rights
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people and injuring even more. As the building housed five garment factories, the tragic event brought global attention to the terrible labor conditions experienced by clothing workers worldwide. It spurred a movement to transform the fashion industry, with numerous campaigns and initiatives launching in its aftermath.
But wages and working conditions for garment workers didn’t change entirely. And in 2020, in response to COVID-19, fashion giants like URBN, Walmart, and boohoo refused to pay their suppliers for completed orders. As a result, factories cut garment workers’ wages, placing people in even more vulnerable positions amidst a pandemic.
To address this, Remake—a nonprofit organization fighting to change fashion’s harmful practices on people and our planet—launched the #PayUp campaign in March 2020. Its goal was simple: #PayUp demanded brands honor their initial contracts so garment workers could get paid.
“We demanded that all brands pay their factories in full for any clothing that was in production prior to the pandemic,” explains Elizabeth Cline, one of the campaign cofounders and the author of The Conscious Closet. “We also demanded that [brands] stick to the original terms of their contracts with contracts, meaning no discounts on their clothes (as factories already manufacture clothes at obscenely-low prices) and no delays in payments (as brands already wait months to pay their factories back, which is unfair).”
The campaign was a success, largely because of social media. The petition amassed over 270,000 signatures as people around the world tweeted at brands to #PayUp. Many even protested outside of stores. The movement recouped at least $15 billion owed to factories from 24 major brands, including UNIQLO, The Gap, and Adidas.
Still, the success was only one small step towards the ultimate goal: fair pay and safe labor conditions for garment workers.
From Petition to Coalition
“As successful as the #PayUp petition was, it also underscored the need for fundamental reforms to reign in corporate power,” says Cline. “The public shouldn’t have to chase down hugely profitable companies to pay their garment workers during a pandemic. And without big, bold changes, another crisis like the cancellations [during COVID] is waiting just around the corner.”
Cline, along with Ayesha Barenblat, the founder and CEO of Remake, and the help of others, decided to create a coalition. Working with additional activists and women union leaders in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, PayUp Fashion was launched in September 2020, noting seven actions for brands to create significant and permanent change:
#PayUp. Brands and retailers must pay for all of the orders they’ve placed during the pandemic in a timely manner, regardless if they were paused or canceled.
Keep Workers Safe. Brands should take action to rectify this wage drop to provide workers with pandemic relief. PayUp fashion has also done its own work to raise funds for direct relief during the pandemic.
Go Transparent. Brands need to disclose the factories they work with and the subcontractors that supply the raw materials for production.
Give Workers Center Stage. PayUp Fashion demands that all major coalitions, conferences, and organizations ensure at least 50 percent representation of women workers’ voices.
Sign Enforceable Contracts. The issues outlined above, namely worker safety violations and wage exploitation, stem from unenforceable contracts that protect brands at the expense of workers. Without enforcement, there is no accountability when rights are violated. PayUp asks for enforceable agreements with worker-centered provisions.
End Starvation Wages. It’s not enough to simply PayUp on any canceled orders. To proceed with lasting change, brands and retailers need to commit to living wages.
Help Pass Laws. PayUp Fashion asks that brands back legal reform to hold them accountable for human rights violations in their supply chains, as well as reforms to bankruptcy protocols that protect garment workers when suppliers are forced out of business.
How Can We Do Our Part?
As citizens, we can advocate for policy reform as well as hold brands accountable. The future of fashion can no longer be focused solely on consumers, and the PayUp Fashion coalition centers the experiences and needs of garment workers. Together, we too can support their efforts to secure better working conditions. Here are just four ways to get started:
Familiarize yourself with the current brands on the PayUp Brand Tracker and help hold them accountable by sending emails or tagging them on social media using #PayUp.
Sign and share the *new* PayUp Petition to get it to 15,000 signatures. This goes beyond the scope of the initial #PayUp petition from March 2020 and demands that brands agree to the 7 Actions listed above.
If you’re in a position to do so, donate to the direct relief fund for garment workers impacted by the pandemic.
This industry will not change quickly enough if we don’t collectively work to hold brands accountable. Now is the time for fashion to #PayUp.
Zach Thomas (he/they) is a Boston-based writer, stylist, and photographer who focuses on sustainability and environmentalism. When they’re not creating, you can find them scouring their local vintage/thrift shops. You can connect with him on Instagram.