Levi’s is at the center of a new human rights watchdog Remake lobbying campaign ahead of New York Fashion Week.
The campaign is asking Levi’s to sign a legally binding worker safety agreement, citing worker testimonies as new evidence.
“It was very deliberate in terms of timing, just on Labor Day and on the heels of fashion week,” Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat told WWD. “We never campaign in a vacuum in the West, it’s a workers-led movement and we let them lead… We always engage with brands behind the scenes, and we’ve explained why that makes sense [to center] Levi’s,” she continued, saying the strong presence of Levi’s suppliers in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as the public commitment to worker welfare and safety necessitated further examination of worker testimonies.
Announced on Monday and running until September 11, Remake’s campaign is in partnership with the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, which represents 70,000 women garment workers in Bangladesh, as well as the Labor Education Foundation in Pakistan. As part of the grassroots campaign, Remake said its online network sent more than 1,700 emails asking brands like Levi’s, Denizen and Dockers (both owned by Levi’s) to sign binding security agreements like the successor agreement to the Bangladesh Accord, the International Accord. Already, the International Accord has 176 signatory brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Zara, Adidas and H&M.
Remake Coalition members are demonstrating at Levi’s stores in more than 14 cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, DC, London and Delhi, demanding a dialogue with store managers on workplace safety and the importance of the Accord international.
In a series of worker video testimonials that WWD reviewed (names and factories omitted for worker safety), workers listed concerns such as extreme heat, lack of machine safety protocols, wage theft, verbal and physical abuse. The testimonies were recorded as part of a monthly database that Remake and other labor rights groups conduct behind closed doors. The collaborative conversation aims to provide union leaders, activists and workers with a safe space to air their concerns and the format has even anchored viral campaigns like #PayUp.
“I work as a cutting operator for a factory producing for Levi’s and Adidas,” one worker said in testimony. “Recently a forklift in the factory malfunctioned and a worker broke his leg. Management sent him home. A few years ago a fire broke out in a factory in Karachi [Pakistan], many workers died and there was no compensation. We workers suffer from the lack of safety measures. (Note that Adidas is a signatory to the International Accord, but Remake did not feature the brand in its campaign).
Another worker who is a machine operator for brands such as Denizen and Levi’s-owned Dockers said safety measures were lacking and machine guards were unavailable, as was access to clean or cold water. The worker claimed that abuse, worker injury costs and forced overtime are commonplace.
Others, such as a Levi’s quality inspector and member of the SGSF union, echoed the poor safety measures, saying: “The factory workers are suffering from extreme heat but are being denied treatment by the doctor From the factory. Our production manager does not authorize us to seek medical treatment. We are forced to work beyond our quotas, our managers often overloading us. Even when we achieve our goals, they mistreat us. Sometimes they beat us and often use abusive words towards us. When the workers make the slightest mistake, the management punishes us immediately. »
Sourcing from more than 40 countries, Levi’s documents health and safety violations in its 300-page sustainability guide and corresponding annual reports. The concerns raised by Remake and in worker testimonials violate company policy but are not the first documented occurrence. WWD contacted Levi’s for comment on the issue and a company spokesperson recalled previous statements on the issue and the programs in place.
“At Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.), we believe that the workers who make our products should work in a safe and healthy environment and be treated with dignity and respect. We have therefore long invested in strengthening security policies throughout our supply chain. In 1991, we were the first multinational to introduce a comprehensive Supplier Code of Conduct, our Terms of Engagement, which prioritized worker safety, including annual fire safety reviews. Over the past 30 years, we have continued to dedicate our resources to efforts that will make the biggest difference for workers in our supply chain, adapting our policies and practices as needed.