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Protest against working conditions targets global fashion brands
Several organisations have come together to carry out a flash operation in the middle of Brussels' most popular shopping street to protest the working conditions endured by employees of major fashion brands.
On Wednesday, street artists created a huge mural on the floor of Rue Neuve in Brussels. From above the slogan can be clearly seen: "Pay your workers." It is a direct rebuke to the global brands whose clothing stores are housed nearby.
The initiative is the result of a collaboration between three associations: the street art collective pARTerre, and the associations achACT (Worker Consumer Actions) and the Schone Kleren Campaign.
As the latter's name suggests, this action is part of the broader, international Clean Clothes Campaign, which advocates for improved working conditions in the fashion industry, particularly with regard to wages.
This issue is even more acute in the context of a health crisis. These associations accuse a number of major brands of instigating mass layoffs, withholding of wages and trade union crackdowns in the sector during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was estimated that between €2.7 billion and €4.9 billion in unpaid wages have been withheld between March and May 2020,” said Sara Ceustermans of the Schone Kleren Campaign (SKC) in a statement.
“Already affected by deplorable working conditions before COVID-19, the disaster is now escalating and plunging millions of people into extreme poverty. In good years, the profits of these companies are not shared with the workers and in a crisis like the one we have today, the workers bear the brunt of it. It's not fair!”
While the sector as a whole is targeted, the Brussels action is particularly focused on some brands more than others, such as H&M, Primark and Nike, all of which have stores on Rue Neuve.
"Our international network, the Clean Clothes Campaign, has identified numerous rights violations in their supply chains,” said Sanna Abdessalem of achACT. “These companies must commit now to the workers who produce their goods. If they do, others will surely do the same.” The action has already garnered the support of representatives from a number of trade unions.
This is not the first operation by these associations against the clothing industry. Last July, they launched an online tool called "Fashion Checker" to find out whether or not clothing brands paid a living wage to their employees, one which allows workers to meet basic needs.