3 problems and actions to support garment workers

As a Los Angeles native, when I think about clothing manufacturing, I think about the many garment factories downtown. I grew up going to American Apparel sample sales and scouring the streets for knock-off designer bags way back when shopping was a much less conscious activity for me than it is today. While in states like New York, garment factories have long been replaced by office and residential space, South LA is still home to factories for many “Made in LA” brands. As the pandemic hit close to home and garment workers were impacted, I wanted to see what was being done to support this force of the industry.

Made in LA Wall in Los Angeles

From Los Angeles to Bangladesh garment workers are impacted by the pandemic. To begin with, these garment workers are already paid astonishingly low, barely livable wages. Yes, even in Los Angeles, you’ll find the average garment worker is paid just $6 an hour (Fashion Revolution). Add global economic instability to the mix and brands have started cancelling orders left and right to skirt costs for upcoming seasons that they’ll struggle to sell through. Order cancellation without compensation leaves garment workers unpaid (Labour Behind the Label).

The good news is that I’ve found some incredible organizations that are teaming up to solve these issues and support the people this industry most depends on!

Problem #1: Fair Wages

“There are more than 45,000 garment workers in Los Angeles, many of whom are paid less than half of the minimum wage in the city.” SB1399

“The average L.A. garment worker earns just $6 an hour, and since many are undocumented immigrants or are paid under the table, they also don’t have access to unemployment or healthcare right now.” Vogue

Los Angeles Times

Actions to take


The Garment Worker Protection Act SB1399 is a progressive bill with the goal of creating safety measures and standardized wages for garment workers in California. Under the current law, garment workers may be compensated per completed piece of clothing rather than by the hour. The California Senate Assembly passed the bill to protect workers’ rights with a 5–1 vote, but the bill remains with the Appropriations Committee. By signing the petition to support passing the bill, you can join the fight to get SB1399 to the Governor’s desk.

The bill was written by State Senator Maria Elen Durazo with the help of organizations including the Garment Worker Center Los Angeles. With the mission to eliminate sweatshop labor, the Los Angeles garment workers lead the fight for a safe and dignified workplace with fair wages. Follow them on Instagram, sign the petition to support passing bill SB1399, join one of their other active campaigns, educate yourself by reading through its reports and resources.

Suay Los Angeles packing farm boxes to support Garment Workers


From farming to sewing, Suay nourishes people and the planet. They’ve teamed up with partners such as Mother Denim and Outerknown to feed over 200 garment worker families. By purchasing a $65 Los Angeles Farm Box, you’ll feed your family and a garment worker family in need. With the goal of highlighting the lack of transparency in the food and fashion industries, Suay creates an opportunity for us to directly support garment workers.

Problem #2: Job loss and cancelled orders

“At least one-quarter of garment workers in Bangladesh — the world’s second-largest clothing manufacturer, after China — have been fired or furloughed because of declining global orders amid the coronavirus crisis, according to the Penn State Center for Global Workers’ Right.” NPR

Action to Take


Remake’s most recent campaign advocates for mass brands to #PayUp on produced or in production orders since retailers have been abandoning garment communities during the global pandemic. The organization has already won victories in getting brands such as Gap and Levi’s to #PayUp, along with 19 more brands, unlocking an estimated $1 billion for suppliers in Bangladesh and $22 billion globally.

Want to hold brands accountable? Sign Remake’s #PayUp Petition

Problem #3: Garment Workers contracting COVID-19

“As COVID-19 takes hold in producer countries: More factories close down to prevent the spread of the virus, often sending workers home without pay. Other factories remain open without enough safety measures, meaning that garment workers are risking their lives for their jobs.” (Labour Behind the Label)

Where garment factories remain open, many workers report dirty conditions, employers’ failure to implement social distancing and sanitizing practices, and bathrooms without soap or hand sanitizer. Workers report feeling they have no choice but to work despite the risk of COVID-19 because they cannot afford a loss of income (Garment Worker Center).

Locally, the Los Angeles Apparel manufacturing facility was ordered to close as more than 300 employees tested positive and four workers died due to violations of public health infection control orders to operate as an “essential business” (New York Times).

Action to Take


  • Donate to the Women and Girls Solidarity Impact Fund
  • Donate to the Garment Worker COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to help Los Angeles Garment Workers

Beyond these options, there are many ways to combat the exploitation of an overwhelmingly female and non-white labor force of garment manufacturing. We can make ethical and conscious choices by buying clothing from brands with fair labor practices — look for certifications from reputable organizations such as the Fair Labor Association, Made By, World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Wear Foundation, Ethical Trading Initiative, B Corp, or Sustainable Apparel Coalition for reassurance. We can also join the conversation in advocating for justice for the millions who depend on these exploitative systems to feed their families!

More Resources:

Seven Ways to help garment workers



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