On the verge of fast fashion factory improvements



Yadira Gonzalez, Production Assistant

After breaking contractual agreements with its overseas factories and cancelling hundreds of orders, fast fashion companies were urged to improve conditions for workers. The amendments to the current accord include implementing better wages and safer health regulations preventing potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

The International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry was renewed on Aug. 25, expanding into new territories as of Sept. 1.

This new accord secures contracts between major clothing companies and garment factories that, on account of the pandemic, were put at stake   with the chance of being taken away completely in certain cases.

Upon signing the accord, brands must now legally maintain a safe working environment and protect their worker’s human rights. This accord also ensures protection in regions where older agreements did not apply. This includes countries such as China, India, Malaysia and Pakistan.

The updated agreement came amid fashion activists’ petitions on social media calling for companies to compensate their workers after cancelling orders with factories despite them already having wasted money on resources. When orders were halted, wages were subsequently reduced or even cut off completely during the height of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the economic downfall of several companies, which in turn meant having to cut costs wherever possible. For the fashion industry, this meant having to cancel hundreds of orders which left companies with nothing to pay their workers.

While  Bangladesh was under lockdown to prevent infection, garment factories remained open as they were a large source of revenue. When cases continued to rise, factories began to shut down production, leaving many of these workers without a job or income.

“My factory was shut for six weeks. I fell behind on rent. I couldn’t pay my brother’s medical bills,” Sampa Akter, a garment factory worker, said during an interview with NPR.

In 2020, consumers took to social media calling out large companies including H&M and Zara to #PayUp, a slogan coined by fashion activist group PayUp Fashion.

“A new breed of social media activists are demanding accountability and meaningful change in the fashion and beauty industries,” Lucy Maguire, editor for Vogue Business, said.

As essential components to the fashion industry, these workers, who are predominantly mothers and wives, should be properly compensated for their work.

Throughout 2021, PayUp Fashion had been pressing companies notorious for their fast-fashion production such as ASOS, Zara and Tommy Hilfiger to renew the Bangladesh Accord. It was previously enacted following two major disasters: a 2012 fire in a Dhakagarment factory that resulted in at least 117 deaths and the collapse of another garment factory close to Dhaka that resulted in over 1,100 injuries and deaths.

After several brands, including Zara, agreed that a new accord was long overdue, fashion activist groups such as PayUp Fashion said they will continue to keep a close eye to ensure that these companies keep their word.

“Zara is making a clear commitment to signing a Successor Agreement,” PayUp Fashion commented on its website. “With public pressure, hopefully they will follow through on it.”

The growing number of “ultrafast fashion” online businesses  such as Shein, PrettyLittleThing and Fashion Nova portray how the fashion industry has a long way to go before reducing their negative impacts on their workers’ lives as well as surrounding environments.

This renewed accord could perhaps pave the way to a world where both the clothes being worn and the humans who make them are less disposable.