As I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed, I kept coming across posts and stories promoting the #PayUp Campaign, which challenges fashion brands to compensate their own workers (which should be a no-brainer?). My curiosity piqued with each post I saw, especially when my friends who barely use social media started posting about it. You know it’s serious when your inactive friends come out of hiding to show their support. After a little digging, I found I shared a personal connection to the cause, which advocates for the workers of Bangladesh. Being Bangladeshi myself, I knew I had to learn more.
While the pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another, garment workers based in Bangladesh have been left devastated. Due to the crisis, the retail industry had to close its doors and hit pause on sales, spurring companies to employ sudden cost-cutting measures. This pressure resulted in huge brands canceling new garment orders and refusing to pay for orders in progress.
I’m not going to lie: the data is disheartening and the situation is severe. The Center of Global Worker’s Rights has reported that in March of 2020, 72.1 percent of clients did not pay for raw materials that were already purchased by the supplier, and 91.3 percent of clientele did not pay for the suppliers’ cost of production. The report also stated that companies have withheld a total of $3 billion worth of goods. Imagine if you’d been hired to complete work, you finished it—and the person who owed money you simply didn’t pay up.
Bangladeshi garment workers falling victim to this injustice is no surprise since Bangladesh is one of the world’s primary garment exporters, second only to China. In fact, if you take a closer look at your wardrobe you’ll probably come to find that many of your affordable pieces come with a ‘Made in Bangladesh’ label.
Here’s where we as shoppers come in: As the accusations against a long list of companies reneging on their orders come to light, social media users have gained traction in calling them out using the hashtag ‘PayUp’. #PayUp is not new, it is actually a movement that first appeared in 2013 after the Rana Plaza tragedy that left 1,132 people dead and 2,500 injured due to poor working conditions in garment factories. The movement called for the compensation of affected workers, as well as safer working environments. Now, the nonprofit organization, Remake, has brought this hashtag back, this time to hold brands accountable for not paying their debt. Remake has also launched a petition urging people to show their outrage through signatures.
The posts labeled #PayUp are educating the public about the exploitation of workers in developing and underdeveloped countries. Garment workers’ pay is essential; they work long hours in less than ideal conditions and still only make a monthly wage of $96 USD (yes, you read that number correctly). Out of the factories surveyed, 58 percent said they had to close down most, if not all, of their operations. Now that I’ve bombarded you with all the facts and stats, allow me to tell you why you should care. If companies don’t pay up, about 4 million workers—most of them women—are left without a source of income, potentially resulting in starvation and extreme poverty.
Thankfully, the power of social media can exceed expectations. If you didn’t believe in social media activism before, think again. Due to thousands of posts flooding Instagram and Twitter demanding that companies follow through in paying garment workers, many companies such as Nike, Zara, Levi’s and Target, have agreed to pay. #PayUp has now received over 245,000 signatures on their petition and has gotten 19 companies to promise payment. This movement has also captured an estimated $1 billion for suppliers in Bangladesh and $22 billion globally.
While these wins should be celebrated, the fight is far from over. A long list of companies that have not agreed to pay still exists. There are so many ways in which we can help. First and foremost, remember that you have the power as a consumer. Vote with your dollar and boycott brands that don’t fairly compensate their workers. Seek out and sign necessary petitions, it only takes a couple of seconds and yes, that simple action does make an impact. If you have the ability to do so, consider donating to organizations such as the Women and Girls Solidarity Fund, which support the workers. If you are unable to donate money, donate your time. Join the thousands that are using their social media accounts to demand payment by using #PayUp. Lastly, educate yourself. Research about the issue from credible sources and continue to learn and fight.
It’s our responsibility as consumers and human beings to make sure brands are held accountable for their unethical business practices. As fashion lovers who don the very clothes they make, it’s our moral obligation to fight for garment workers who don’t have the voice to fight for themselves. We cannot allow companies to use this already tragic time as an excuse to not pay their workers. #PayUp is more than a hashtag, it is a call for help from garment workers in Bangladesh—and it is up to us to answer.