This year the world has had to confront two monumental challenges: Covid-19 and the economic catastrophe the disease has caused. Both have taken a heavy toll on economically vulnerable workers, who already had to contend with low wages and few social protections. Their plight has exposed the rampant inequality pervading many corners of the globalized world, including the fashion industry.
The economic pressures created by the pandemic have demonstrated just how dependent fashion is on the exploitation of cheap labor and how devastating this interdependence can be in times of calamity. With the World Bank warning that as many as 150 million people could fall back into extreme poverty by the end of 2021 because of the pandemic, the issue cannot be ignored.
When Covid-19 began to spread and lockdowns brought the world to a standstill, millions of underpaid garment workers in developing countries bore much of the pain. As fashion supply chains were disrupted, payments frozen and orders canceled, factory owners in Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Bangladesh suffered a body blow. Many in the work force were sent home without pay, left to fend for themselves amid a global health crisis.