MPs and peers call on fast fashion giants to step up living wages for garment workers

Exclusive: Demand for better wages comes after 8th anniversary of Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in India

Garment workers work in a small clothing factory in China. A cross-party group of MPs and peers are calling on fast fashion giants to do more to ensure garment workers in their supply chains can earn a living wage
Garment workers work in a small clothing factory in China. A cross-party group of MPs and peers are calling on fast fashion giants to do more to ensure garment workers in their supply chains can earn a living wage

A cross-party group of more than 100 MPs and peers have signed a joint letter to the CEOs of fast fashion giants ASOS, Boohoo and H&M to demand living wages for the garment workers in their supply chains.

The letter, signed by 67 members of the House of Commons and 37 members of the House of Lords, urged the retailers to do more to prevent workers from being “exploited by a race to the bottom”.

MPs across political parties have backed the letter, written by Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Stephen Timms. It recommends that these brands adopt a model of smaller profit margins in order to guarantee a fair wage - a “transformational” model that is being pioneered by new sustainable clothing brand Yes Friends.

According to Yes Friends, which claims to offer the UK’s cheapest sustainable and ethical T-shirt for £7.99, its business model allows the brand to pay a living wage to its garment workers who work in a solar- and wind-powered factory in Tirupur, India.

Other signatories include former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Textiles and Fashion, Dr Lisa Cameron.

“We commend to you the model of Yes Friends. Their £7.99 sustainable and ethical T-shirt shows that - using the direct-to-consumer business model - it would be possible for you to guarantee a fair, living wage for your garment workers while still sourcing T-shirts for less than £3.50,” said the letter.

“Your margins would be shaved, but you would continue to make a good profit while selling affordable clothing and allowing workers around the world a life of dignity.”

Mr Timms said in a statement: “There is simply no excuse for fast fashion brands not to pay a living wage to their garment workers. 

“If major suppliers were willing to reduce their profit margins by a tiny fraction, they could continue to make a handsome profit while also selling affordable clothing and allowing their workers around the world to live a life of dignity.”

Sam Mabley, co-founder of Yes Friends, said: “Yes Friends exists to prove that affordable fashion can be ethical and sustainable.

“The majority of Gen Z and millennials would buy ethical clothing if they could afford it, but it is out of their price range. Our business model shows that if fast fashion brands were to increase their retail prices by a tiny margin, they could offer living wages across their global supply chains.”

The letter comes during Fashion Revolution week, which will see a series of events around the world to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory disaster in 2013 and call for the reform of the fashion industry.

The collapse of the garment factory in Dhaka on 24 April 2013 resulted in 1,134 deaths and was one of the worst industrial accidents on record. The incident sparked calls for better labour conditions for workers in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh and worldwide.

Nick Beighton, CEO of ASOS, said in response to the letter that the online fashion destination was “committed to respecting, protecting and championing the human rights of all who come into contact with our operations”.

He added that the model used by Yes Friends was “commendable”, but that it “is small scale involving just one factory”.

“In contrast, ASOS works with c.160 suppliers from 27 source countries, involving c.930 factories across tiers 1-3 of our own brand supply chain,” said Mr Beighton.

“Given this scale and complexity, in our view the best route to securing a living wage for garment workers across our supply chain and beyond is through industry-wide collaboration and industry-level collective bargaining.”

Mr Beighton said ASOS is an “active participant” in the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) agreement with other global brands and trade unions that aims to “achieve living wages for workers through collective bargaining at industry level, freedom of association and purchasing practices”.

Toni Galli, the UK country manager for H&M Group, responded to the joint letter by saying the brand is also a member of the ACT agreement.

“As such, we have developed a costing block tool that enables us to separate out workers’ wages from order price negotiation processes,” she said. “This means that workers; wages are excluded from price negotiations and the respective costs are secured with each order we place.”

She also said that H&M “needs to work at scale across several countries” and that trade unions and collective bargaining “are the most effective tools to raise wages at industry level”.

A spokesperson for Boohoo declined to comment.

In March, the Environmental Audit Committee called for tougher enforcement to combat exploitation in fast fashion supply chains.

Committee chairman Philip Dunne said at the time, in a letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy, that voluntary initiatives have “failed to make any significant improvement to pay and working conditions in certain quarters of the fashion industry”.

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