The Labour Behind the Label (LBL) initiative is leading efforts to ensure fashion companies Next and Superdry fulfill their obligation of 500,000 dollars owed to Cambodian garment workers affected by the Wai Full Textiles factory closure during Covid-19.
According to LBL, Next, Superdry, and Asos received supplies from Wai Full Textiles. The factory ceased operations in May 2021, leaving workers with partial annual leave compensation, yet 500,000 dollars in unpaid wages and severance pay remains unsettled.
With the factory owners bankrupt and its Hong Kong parent company dissolved, advocates stress that these brands are the last recourse for the former employees.
Starting in January 2021, as the pandemic raged, the Cambodian factory began worker layoffs. In May 2021, the factory officially shut down, providing workers with minimal leave compensation while the 500,000 dollar debt persisted.
In response, the female-led Cambodian union CATU rallied factory members for justice and fair compensation. Wai Full Garments' bankruptcy and asset liquidation, followed by the dissolution of the Hong Kong parent company, left workers with limited options, leading them to seek aid from implicated brands.
In autumn 2021, LBL reached out to Superdry, Next, and Asos on behalf of workers and the following year the brands proposed a confidential settlement amount, with distribution plans also discussed. LBL said that to date Next and Superdry refused responsibility for compensation.
A new campaign is now underway, urging Next and Superdry to reconsider and contribute to the unpaid sum. This case reflects wider Covid-19-related inequalities, where women of colour in global supply chains face massive wage and compensation discrepancies. While the fashion industry moved forward, workers bore the brunt. This instance represents a microcosm of the broader struggle for fairness during the pandemic.
Why should brands pay?
LBL asserts Fashion corporations often opt to produce clothing at arm's length, utilizing factories where they may not directly employ workers, yet enjoy the advantages of inexpensive labour and lax regulations. However, when challenges arise, can these companies simply disassociate themselves from the problems? Guiding principles for business rooted in human rights posit that brands must demonstrate exhaustive efforts to safeguard the well-being of their product makers, rectifying situations where their operations have led to or played a part in harm. The complex aspect arises due to a lack of financial transparency; workers lack the financial data to substantiate that the collective group of brands, in this instance, directly "caused or contributed" to the factory's closure by withdrawing their support.