4 Ways to Help Ethical Brands and Workers During the COVID-19 Crisis
Posted on 19 April 2020
In this time of uncertainty, it’s hard not to notice the effect that the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused throughout every household, community, industry, and everyone around the world. Many are facing health, financial, and employment scares, while the rest of us are trying to figure out what we can do to help those high risk groups.
While there seems to be a plethora of helpful resources at our fingertips, the information overload can make us feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Where should we focus our efforts when it seems like everyone in the world needs a (virtual) hug right now?
Here at Huaywasi, we unfortunately don’t have all the answers, but we do want to focus our research on some topics we care about most: garment workers, artisans, fair trade projects, and small businesses that are truly focused on giving back to their communities.
Artisan Elena at her home sewing station
Additionally, with the annual Fashion Revolution Week in full swing, some of these tips are geared towards the rights of garment workers in vulnerable countries. Now more than ever is an important time to come together to help support artisans of all walks of life. We’ll start with the most obvious…..
1. Buy online!
No one can ignore the abundance of sales emails getting thrust at their inbox every day. As much as this excites us, this is also a clear sign of small brands saying “help!” as they are seeing sales screeching to a halt.
As many of us worry about our finances over the next few months, it also puts people in a bind as they decide whether they really need their tenth pair of leggings (But they are on sale! We know, no judgements :) ).
If you are trying to save but still want to contribute, rethinking your essential purchases is a great happy medium! Soap is something quite literally everyone needs to buy right now, so why not buy from a small brand or project giving back to the community? We personally love b.a.r.e soaps and Alaffia.
Alaffia's Good Soap Bars via Instagram
Another obvious purchase is hand sanitizer. We know that the CDC really emphasizes soap and water when available, but it is nice to have this stashed in case of emergencies or when you’re on a grocery run. Many breweries and distilleries have made the switch to producing hand sanitizer for first-response workers, but there are also some small brands producing for the public that could really use the sales boost.Try to find local businesses in your area that have made the switch!
MegaBabe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer via their website
Lastly, there are ways to support smaller, ethical projects through buying some (what we would call) “essential non-essentials” during the quarantine and social distancing phases. Whether it’s cocktails, wine, or your everyday coffee, tea, and snacks, there are fair trade projects that could really benefit from the extra sales to keep their artisans and workers employed. Even puzzle companies and online bookshops are finding ways to support individual artists and indie brick-and-mortar bookstores. A small change in your normal purchases could make a huge difference to someone!
Bookshop.org's online platform
2. Spread love through gift cards, referral programs, or social media shoutouts
If you feel you want to help small projects, but nothing is calling your name right now, help support them by buying a gift card to use at a later time! Many e-commerce website platforms have changed their policy plans during the pandemic to allow brands of any size to start promoting a gift card option (Huaywasi included!).
Better yet, electronically give the gift card to a loved one or an essential COVID-19 front line worker to help brighten their day.
Again, want to help but feeling the financial pressure? Try looking for referral programs where brands that you have previously purchased from give you a specialized discount code to send to friends and family. They can use your code to get a certain amount off their purchase, and you in return get a discount on your next purchase!
We’re excited to start our own Give $15, Get $15 campaign. We’ve created a small cheatsheet below to help you get started:
- Log into your Huaywasi account through clicking the person icon on the top right hand corner of the home screen.
- Scroll to the bottom of our home page and under the Navigation menu click “Give $15, Get $15”
- Copy your unique referral link to give out to a loved one. Tell them to enter that referral URL into their internet browser
- Our website and a subsequent pop-up will prompt the person to create an account to receive the code
- After creating an account, the discount code will appear to be copied and later pasted into the checkout page
Referral programs can be a great way to spread your favorite ethical brand’s message without spending any money!
On this same note, there are many ways to support small brands and artisan projects online without purchasing anything via social media. Likes, comments, shares on stories, entering giveaways and tagging friends, the possibilities are really endless to help individually promote ethical brands (and can all be done in less than 5 minutes!).
Additionally, if you’ve purchased from the brand before, you can take the time to leave them a product review. With the vast majority of customers trusting online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, your input could really help a small project grow organically!
3. Speak out against large fast fashion brands sourcing from vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh
On April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed due to illegal construction and working conditions put in place by the owner and clothing managers, resulting in the death of over 1,100 garment workers.
As we remember this week those lives that were lost, Fashion Revolution works to create more transparency and better working conditions for garment workers around the world, generating their popular “Who Made My Clothes” campaign to help give workers a voice in the global fashion industry.
Artisan Elena holding a "I Made Your Clothes" Sign During Fashion Revolution Week last year
Unfortunately, many factories in Bangladesh and around the world are facing another crisis, as large brands are cancelling and postponing over $3 billion dollars worth of orders due to COVID-19. Of this amount, over a billion dollars comes from orders that were already in production or completed.
We know that while there isn’t a perfect solution for larger brands as they face declining sales and economic crises, there should never be a time that garment workers and factories are producing orders that they aren’t getting paid for, as some brands are simply approaching the weakest links in their supply chain to ask for help rather than applying for government subsidies.
Fashion Revolution already has an easy-to-use template set up to email popular brands asking them to honor existing contracts they have with their factories during this time. Remake is non-profit centered around ending fast fashion, and they have launched a global #PayUp campaign, calling on major labels to pay factories and garment workers for the orders they have already placed. You can sign their online petition here.
Remake's #PayUp Campaign sourced via Instagram
Other initiatives could include reaching out to them via social media. Find out which brands could be putting workers at risk here or check out the chart below compiled by Fashion Revolution.
Fashion Revolution acknowledges that since this chart was released on March 31st, 2020, Kiabi, Target, and Inditex have all agreed to pay for their completed or in-production orders. Image sourced via Instagram
4. Donate directly to relief funds for workers
As we stated before, brands of all industries and sizes have been impacted harshly by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This impact doesn’t exclude our small artisan project, or even much larger ethical projects operating in Peru, especially due to Peru’s rapid response through a national lockdown that will be in place until at least April 26th.
Gamarra, one of Latin America's largest textile markets nestled in Lima, now completely vacant after Peru's quarantine orders. Sourced via Peru21.pe
As we grappled with the fact that all of our summer fairs will most likely be cancelled, and with our educational parent non-profit, LLI, closing their doors and recommending all management return to their homes in Peru and around the world, we knew Huaywasi could not operate during this time to offer the artisans their normal monthly orders.
After completing payments for their March orders (and paying one artisan three months worth of maternity leave, congrats to Guillermina on her new baby!), our management team decided to set up an independent relief fund for our artisans with a goal to provide them each with three months worth of wages.
Many other brands and causes have taken action to helping artisans and garment workers around the world during this crisis:
- AWAJ Foundation was founded and led by garment workers in Bangladesh. Special donations will now go directly to workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis to ensure basic needs are met. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to donate!
- Garment Worker Center is a workers’ rights organization focusing on ending sweatshop labor and improving conditions of tens of thousands of garment workers in the Los Angeles area, many of them immigrants and women of color. They have set up a COVID-19 relief fund for these endangered workers.
- The World Fair Trade Organization and Fair Trade USA are both organizations who promote artisans, producers, and workers by ensuring businesses are held accountable for their well-being at the highest level. Donate to Fair Trade USA’s Community Development Fund or find individual projects to support through WTFO’s Support Fair Trade Crowdfunding list.
WTFO launching their #StayHomeLiveFair campaign via Instagram. Fair Trade USA launching their #WeWearFairTrade campaign this week to coincide with Fashion Revolution Week.
We are all facing unprecedented times in ways we couldn’t imagine previously, and the most important thing we can do first and foremost is protect ourselves and stay indoors so that we can protect others. While we are quarantining at home, small brands, ethical projects, fair trade businesses, and most importantly, the associated workers behind the label, could really use support from their global communities.
We are still discovering new and amazing initiatives to help these workers, artisans, and projects, and we’d love to keep the conversation going! Please drop us a comment below or email us if you’ve noticed a fund or project that’s making an impact in the fair trade, artisan, or clothing industry!