Sweatshops are not an abstraction of the distant third world; they are alive and well in Los Angeles. As fashion activists, it’s our duty not only to promote ethical alternatives, but to mobilize alongside workers affected directly by fast fashion retailers.
Join the garment workers of Los Angeles in a rally against the fast fashion retailers that continue to exploit.
When: 1 – 3 pm
Saturday, December 1st
Where: 7th St. and Figueroa St.
March to: Ross Dress for Less,
719 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
As fashion activists, it’s naive to believe that promoting ethical fashion brands is the only response to the rampant exploitation in fashion today. Creating business models that fairly employ/empower is an important asset, but it does not address the normalization of exploitation that exists in the traditional fashion industry. We need to go beyond organizing and amplifying within in our own niche of ethical brands.
You can’t simply starve the beast (fast fashion) without building people’s power (the heart of the movement, the workers).
With an unnoticed presence, the cut and sew apparel industry hums as the background noise of Los Angeles. Woven into the fabric of the city, workers of this underground economy are tied to the undocumented community, making the industry notorious for wage theft, worker intimidation, and poor health and safety conditions.
Los Angeles is the nation’s garment production capital and the city’s largest manufacturing sector. Over 45,000 workers cut, sew and finish garments locally, a workforce comprised primarily of Latinx and Asian immigrants. The Los Angeles garment industry is notorious for operating within a complex, multi-layered system of fierce competition, in which thousands of small factories compete to obtain contracts with manufacturers by providing high volume and quick turnaround.
To do so, contract owners “sweat” work out of their employees while garment manufacturers and retailers reap tremendous profits and routinely deny responsibility for the conditions in which their garments were produced. Thus, workplace conditions for garment workers are abysmal: approximately 60% are denied minimum wage and 93% are denied overtime wages. Workers toil in overcrowded factories, in which cardboard boxes and fabric bundles block safety exits, and at times are even locked inside the factories. Factories are often sweltering due to poor ventilation and industrial steam presses. The factories lack filters to reduce fabric fibers in the air, placing workers at risk for serious respiratory illnesses.
Workers frequently do not have access to drinking water and clean bathrooms. Workers receive punctures from sewing machine needles or tag guns, with no assurance that the equipment is sanitized after a puncture. Employers typically do not provide First Aid kits, leaving workers to use dirty oil from sewing machines and discarded fabric strips on their wounds. Finally, workers endure repetitive motion injuries to their wrists, shoulders and back, and eye strain due to poor lighting. In response to these conditions, Los Angeles garment workers have been at the forefront of fighting for change in the industry.
WORKERS RIGHTS = IMMIGRANT RIGHTS = HUMAN RIGHTS
One of the main questions I get is how the garment factories in Los Angeles get away with workers making just $5 an hour, especially in a city like Los Angeles. A large element of this has to do with documentation status.
With most of the workforce being made up of illegal or indeterminate status immigrants, fear of retaliation from employers, being fired, or fear of deportation are all reasons workers avoid speaking up. Employers are known to intimidate workers by telling them that the Labor Commission — who are expected to support workers with claims against their employers — works in collaboration with America’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Although all workers are entitled to the minimum wage, LA factories dodge giving proper wages by utilizing the piece rate system. This system allows for subminimum pay, compensating workers per each piece they produce, rather than the hours that they work. When the minimum wage was $6 an hour, the piece rate system served as a way to incentivize workers to reach higher production quotas. However, the piece rate has not increased within the last 40 years, with workers being paid only 2 to 3 cents per piece.
In addition to the piece rate, the price that retailers are paying manufacturers have also remained stagnant, with most retailers paying only a percentage of the price needed for manufacturers to provide fair wages to workers.
How can I support remotely?
Write a letter to Ross Stores with this pre-written template: