That 2021 would still see a division within fashion when it comes to supporting improved rights for garment workers should raise questions about the ethics of the sector, especially as more and more people are boarding the sustainability train in an attempt to counter conversations about fashion’s dirty manners.
While the Garment Workers Protection Act, or California Senate Bill 62 (SB 62), is on hold pending a plenary vote expected later this summer, it There is a division in feelings between those who support her and those who don’t exactly rally behind her. .
The main problem the bill seeks to address is the elimination of piece-rate pay for workers who, in addition to potentially preparing them to work faster than they should or reducing costs, the system comes back, for many garment workers in California, to around $ 2.68 to $ 5 an hour in take home pay, Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat said at a press conference around the act Wednesday. The current minimum wage in California is $ 14 an hour.
The bill also works to hold brands accountable for any unpaid wages, instead of leaving that just to factories. It is here, in the shared responsibility part of the bill, that the players take divergent paths.
Supporters are eager to see the bill passed, the piece rate eliminated, and additional protections against things like poor working conditions and wage theft. At this, critics fear it will harm the productivity of factory workers.
“The bill doesn’t take away productivity goals – you can have productivity goals, but the minimum wage is the minimum wage,” said Sanjeev Bahl, founder of sustainable denim maker Saitex, one of 140 companies that Remake, a nonprofit fighting for best practices in fashion, followed as being in support of SB 62. Others include Mara Hoffman, Eileen Fisher and Doen. “In manufacturing, you have to be productive. When you start talking about $ 14 an hour or $ 15 an hour and compare it to Vietnam or some other place [or] third world country which [pays] $ 2 an hour, $ 3 an hour or whatever, that sounds a lot.
For Bahl and many other manufacturers, fashion production costs are rising across the board, and wages always seem to be one of the last places brands want to pay.
Endemic supply chain delays aside, the cost of air freight per kilogram from the Far East to the United States, Bahl said, was around $ 2.50 / kg before the pandemic – ” today it is between $ 9, $ 10, $ 11. [per kg], anything anyone wants to invent. The cost of a 40-foot container, he said, “was $ 2,500. Today it is $ 11,000 and no one is talking about it.
Bringing together this “global reality,” as Bahl called it, $ 15 an hour can seem high for fast fashion brands that sell items for a lower price. But for sustainable brands that spend more money on what they make and sell, this makes manufacturing in the United States a more comparable option.
The problem, and one of the reasons for divergence over garment workers’ protection law, according to Bahl, is the industry’s long-standing “habit and mentality” of cutting costs and perpetuating lows. wages to support downstream earnings.
“Rather than marginalize work and blame work for this high cost… while they are sitting in their big house with their white palisades… They don’t have the courage to pay people $ 15 an hour for put bread on their table, ”he said. . “I would say, shame on you.”
It is precisely this “paying more” that has been the thorn in the side of fashion as the industry has searched for years to find the cheapest places to produce.
Remake’s director of advocacy and policy, Elizabeth L. Cline, said Wednesday, citing a US Department of Labor investigation, that “brands often pay 73% less than they would need for factories to pay the price. minimum wage “.
“Brands really need to understand how their purchasing practices can actually impact workers in the supply chain,” said Carrie Freiman, sustainability director of Reformation, another of the 140 companies joining SB. 62. “Brands actually have an undue influence on the wages paid downstream to garment workers.
Freiman’s comment came in response to claims from critics of the bill dissatisfied with its aspect of brand payroll responsibility, as they say brands have little control over what goes on in factories.
Industry organizations like the American Apparel and Footwear Association are among those that have taken this position.
In a letter urging the California Assembly to oppose the current Garment Workers Protection Act, the AFOA said, “… there are elements of this bill that we support. However, the trademark guarantor provision, creating joint and separable liability, represents an extraordinary misunderstanding as to who is responsible for paying workers’ wages and will worsen the plight of garment workers by creating an exodus of brands from California. and subsequent job losses. This will only exacerbate the economic pressures causing the situation that the legislation aims to avoid. “
For Cline, the position is one that she believes doesn’t – or shouldn’t – represent a modern fashion industry.
“The idea that brands have no control over what goes on in factories is so outdated and frankly it’s embarrassing that an American association even takes that position,” she said. “These professional associations, which often reflexively publish statements in response to labor rights legislation, [that] does not really reflect the position of the industry.
While Patagonia, for its part, could not be immediately reached for confirmation, Cline said the brand – although it did not come out in favor of the SB 62 – told Remake, “We are not opposed to SB 62 and AAFA’s statement is not representative of our company’s position. Patagonia’s statement also appears on the Remake website.
Clarifying further to WWD on Wednesday, AAFA President and CEO Steve Lamar said, “We strongly support the adoption of an SB 62 that does not eliminate California as a competitive manufacturing hub. and responsible for the clothes. Unfortunately, a provision in SB 62, as currently drafted, would do just that. While the legislation contains many important reforms, the unsustainable joint liability provision – the only element of this bill that we opposed – would defeat those reforms, driving the clothing industry out of California and leading to the loss of good jobs in the state. Through our education and advocacy, securing and upholding strong labor rights and world-class working conditions in the United States and abroad are among AAFA’s highest priorities.
Bahl of Saitex argues the bill won’t kick him out of California, and he doesn’t think it should work that way for other brands, either.
This is part of Bahl’s commitment, when setting up manufacturing in Los Angeles following the start of Saitex’s supply chain operations in Vietnam, to go a bit against the grain of this which has often been the traditional practice upstream of the fashion business.
“Factories have played the labor arbitrage card… and this has led to a lack of innovation,” he said. Using advanced technology and artificial intelligence to find new ways to make a pair of jeans, said Bahl, where producing 1,000 pairs of jeans a day in Vietnam requires 250 human workers, which in the Los Angeles plant takes between 100 and 125 people.
“We were able to reduce the footprint by 50%,” he said. “It allows us to be competitive even at $ 14, $ 15 an hour.”
Questions have arisen as to why brands are not taking a more public stand on the Garment Workers Protection Act, but those speaking believe the bill’s regulations could help secure workers’ wages. , prevent brands from exploiting the piece price and adopt a shared risk. , which some advocates see as fair.
“I wish it was true that there were only a handful of bad actors, but we know that Los Angeles salary theft is rampant,” Cline said, recalling a statistic that more than 80% of garment workers in Los Angeles were victims. Even the Garment Restitution Fund, which was created by the California legislature 20 years ago to pay wages where workers don’t get what they’re entitled to, is “inundated with hundreds of cases every year.”
“It’s often the California taxpayers who have to fill that fund and close these wage gaps owed to workers,” Cline said. “It really is just an outrageous system that these huge companies are not jointly responsible for the theft of wages.”
Additionally, regarding the benefits of the bill, Freiman de Reformation said the SB 62 regulations could help usher in “a new standard of compliance.”
“I think it could also re-establish California as an epicenter of ethical manufacturing,” she said.
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