‘Wage theft’ in Primark, Nike and H&M supply chain – report

No laws were broken but brands failed to ensure workers were paid properly during the pandemic, says Clean Clothes Campaign

Campaigners claim to have found evidence of “wage theft” in the supply chains of Primark, Nike and H&M in a report that outlines the devastating consequences of the pandemic on garment workers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

Research by the Clean Clothes Campaign found that, while none of the brands had broken any laws, they had failed to ensure that their workers were properly paid throughout the pandemic.

Interviews with dozens of garment workers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh discovered many had experienced periods in the last year when they had not been paid their full wages. Of 49 workers interviewed, more than half said they were paid less than before the pandemic.

The Clean Clothes Campaign said workers faced increasing production targets amid a trend of mass layoffs and lack of overtime pay.

In 2020, global fashion brands cancelled billions of pounds of clothing orders placed with supplier factories as coronavirus lockdowns shuttered high streets across the world.

There is a growing body of evidence that “wage theft” of poorly paid workers has occurred at a significant scale throughout the pandemic, linked to many of the world’s largest fashion brands. A Worker Rights Consortium report in April estimated that total severance theft during Covid-19, across the supply chains of global brands and retailers, was $500m to $850m (£360m-£620m).

“Brands have continued to profit and can afford to pay workers. They have the power and responsibility to make sure workers in their supply chains are being paid,” said Meg Lewis, lead author of the Clean Clothes Campaign’s report.

“Wages in the garment industry are already set at poverty levels so any drop in pay is a huge factor in workers’ lives. It shouldn’t be the workers who are paying for this pandemic.”

All the brands named in the report acknowledged that the pandemic had been devastating for the global fashion industry.

H&M and Nike said that workers in their supply chains had all been compensated in accordance with local legal requirements on wages. Primark said it was taking the findings of the report seriously and would welcome receiving any evidence of wage problems at the supplier factories named in the report.

After suffering losses in the first half of 2020, Nike, H&M and Primark have all returned to making considerable profits. In November 2020, Primark’s owner, Associated British Foods, reported a £914m profit before tax for 2020. H&M Group announced an operating profit of 3,099m kronor (£262m) for 2020, and Nike’s net income for the year to 31 May 2021, was $5.7bn (£4.2bn).

Contributor

Sarah Johnson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Worst fashion wage theft’: workers go hungry as Indian suppliers to top UK brands refuse to pay minimum wage
Shortfall of 16p a day leaves children living on just rice as suppliers to Nike, Zara and H&M in Karnataka underpay by estimated £41m

Annie Kelly

16, Dec, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Top fashion brands face legal challenge over garment workers’ rights in Asia
Pan-Asian labour rights group launches groundbreaking attempt to hold global labels accountable for alleged rights violations during pandemic

Annie Kelly

09, Jul, 2021 @10:21 AM

Article image
Primark announces wage fund for garment workers
Pledge comes in response to claims that order cancellations to minimise Covid-19 losses have hurt millions of workers in the developing world

Annie Kelly

07, Apr, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Primark and Matalan among retailers allegedly cancelling £2.4bn orders in ‘catastrophic’ move for Bangladesh
Garment workers left ‘abandoned’ by move to cut losses in wake of coronavirus crisis by retailers including Primark and Edinburgh Woollen Mill

Annie Kelly

02, Apr, 2020 @1:51 PM

Article image
Primark supplier reportedly locks workers in factory to stop their anti-coup protest in Myanmar
Garment workers in Yangon say they were dismissed for breaking out to take part in civil disobedience movement

Guardian reporter in Yangon and Rebecca Ratcliffe

13, Mar, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Female workers at H&M supplier in India allege widespread sexual violence
Multiple women have reported abuse weeks after 21-year-old worker at Natchi Apparels was allegedly killed by her supervisor

Annie Kelly

09, Mar, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
After the Savar tragedy, time for an international minimum wage | Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus: Bangladesh's garment industry must be reformed, not destroyed. Let's see foreign buyers unite to lift workers out of 'slave labour'

Muhammad Yunus

12, May, 2013 @3:51 PM

Article image
'My life became a disaster movie': the Bangladesh garment factory on the brink
One factory owner tells how coronavirus cancellations by UK brands have seen him struggle to pay wages

Annie Kelly

21, Jun, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
The fashion industry echoes colonialism – DfID's scheme will subsidise it | Meg Lewis
Western brands profit from the exploitative labour of black and brown workers. The deep inequality won’t be fixed by injecting funds at the top of supply chains

Meg Lewis

25, Aug, 2020 @7:30 AM

Article image
Anger at huge shareholder payout as US chain Kohl's cancels $150m in orders
Retailer paid $109m in dividends just weeks after cancelling clothing orders, leaving suppliers in Bangladesh and Korea facing financial crisis

Mei-Ling McNamara

10, Jun, 2020 @2:00 PM