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sewing factory in Havana
sewing factory in Havana

It’s Time to Pay Garment Workers What They’re Owed

Despite being a trillion dollar industry worldwide, fast fashion continues to exploit its largely immigrant workforce. In a report from NBC News’s Ludwig Hurtado, Los Angeles workers are paid by the piece instead of being paid an hourly rate. This can be as low as 3 cents for sewing on a label and despite producing thousands of pieces a week, workers are averaging only $5 an hour (California minimum wage is $13 per hr). Sixty plus hour work weeks, uncompensated missed breaks to meet quota, and the constant threat of job termination by factory managers. It’s time for that to change.

Garment Workers protest. Photo credit Robes De Mariee

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the issue. Like many essential workers across all industries, garment workers’ pay does not reflect the important services they provide. These are the same workers that are making the face masks we wear for our protection. The tragic irony of it is that these workers are also some of the most at risk.

Garment workers work long hours in close proximity to one another, increasing their chances of exposure. This was most evident when the brand Los Angeles Apparel had nearly 400 workers test positive for COVID-19 in the Summer , four of whom have since passed away.

To make matters worse, California Legislature recently denied the Garment Worker Protection Act that sought to end piece rate pay and guarantee minimum wage. The state is the nation’s leader in textile manufacturing, and LA has the largest concentration of garment workers. Critics argued that the measure would have taken away jobs, as businesses would have looked elsewhere for cheap labor – a stance that screams complacency with the unjust status-quo.

If lawmakers won’t take action to help voiceless laborers, what can you, the average consumer, do to help? Vote with your dollar. Before you buy, research who’s making your clothes to ensure the business implements fair labor practices. Purchase from fair trade certified brands and from small labels who provide better working conditions. Encourage others to be mindful of where their clothing is sourced, and hopefully with more responsible shoppers we can slowly (but surely) shift demand for more ethical practices.

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