COVID-19: At All Costs

The following is a project created by Melissa Lee for the Global Pandemics in an Unequal World taught by Prof. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

Garment workers have been working for poverty wages and harsh factory conditions that violate human rights for decades. The disruption the pandemic caused to the fashion industry hit garment workers the hardest, as they were facing destitution and a looming humanitarian crisis.
Store closings amidst the lockdowns caused a sharp decline in spending on apparel. Brands and retailers rushed to cancel their orders, on product that suppliers had already produced or were in the process of completing.

What did this mean for garment workers at the factories with canceled orders? They reported loss of wages, termination, incurring debt, significantly reducing their family’s food budget, and being sent back to work too soon where physical distancing and sanitizing measures were not being implemented properly. Order cancelations are a function of the grossly inequitable payment terms that brands have imposed on suppliers, where brands do not pay for goods until well after the suppliers have produced them, meaning the suppliers have to pay all of the upfront costs. Brands often do not pay for orders until 60-90 days after delivery.
This system allowed the brands to fail to go back on their financial obligations to suppliers in order to shore up their own finances and minimize inventory.

This project is a visualization that showcases the power imbalances and inequalities that define supply chain relationships in the apparel industry.