Retail workers have faced unprecedented circumstances due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Although, clothing brands fit the non-essential category. Most of them, however, did not shut down until the last week of March. Retail workers have not only suffered from the pandemic, but they are also facing cuts in wages and lay-offs.
Early in March, Zara announced worldwide store closures and said that they will be donating face masks to health workers. Although, these measures are commendable. It brings into question Zara’s regard for its workers. There have been numerous reports that workers in Myanmar are facing hazardous conditions as factories continued to operate. Temperature checks were carried out at the beginning of shifts, but workers were provided with cloth masks. Social distancing was not effectively practiced either. Thus, exposing workers to high risk.
Similar reports about Boohoo revealed that the brand is not complying with social distancing regulations. The team continued to shoot with full teams flying models in and out of the country.  It is incomprehensible as to why Boohoo would conduct shoots amidst a global pandemic. If anything, it exposes the brand-owners’ lack of regard for their workers, in this case, the models. Both Zara and Boohoo are highly popular brands that have customers worldwide. Surely, a temporary halt in production/manufacturing and marketing would have not brought devastating consequences for the businesses.
Many brands have carried out mass lay-offs to cut down costs, others have delayed wage payments to workers. In Pakistan, factory workers protested in front of ChenOne because they have not been paid for four months. The factory supposedly produces for H&M, Mango, Zara, and American Apparel. While in India at least 150 workers who worked at Arvind Limited were either laid off or in the process of being replaced. According to reports, the company manufactures for brands such as H&M, Levis, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and Old Navy. 
The attitude of many fast fashion brands towards their employees is insensitive at best. Considering we are already amid a pandemic that is putting enormous strain on everyone’s mental and physical well-being. Increased job insecurity, wage theft, and unemployment is an added stressor. It is almost as if retail workers are being robbed off of their livelihoods.
Labor exploitation was never a hidden subject. However, the pandemic has not only exposed labor exploitation but also, initiated the need for fast fashion brands to revamp and re-evaluate their policies for employees. One can only hope that in the aftermath of COVID-19 there will be a reformation of all systems, whereby, businesses might finally start prioritising workers over profits. Meanwhile, as consumers what can we do to help the workers? We can email retailers/brands and ask for more transparency. Better still, stop buying from brands that are known for labor exploitation.
Racism in Fast Fashion
On another note, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and global outrage, the fashion industry has also been called into question. Fast fashion thrives on the exploitation of BIPOC across the world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that fast fashion has deliberately created a system that makes the rich richer and vice versa.
According to Kalkidan Legesse, the colonial legacy has continued. Whereby, western consumers demand cheaper clothes and brands want to make larger profit margins.  Once again BIPOC are exploited to serve the interests of the Western consumers and brand owners. It is about time; consumers start holding brands accountable for their blatant injustices and racism.
Many brands have remained silent on the on-going outrage. Just a few brands have come forward in support of the protests i.e. Nike, Adidas, and Michael Kors. Brands such as Zara, H&M, Boohoo, ASOS, Topshop, Pretty Little Thing, and many others still need to be held accountable. Despite claims of solidarity and support. Many of these brands are well known for the exploitation of BIPOC and have profited from cultural appropriation. The fashion industry has made billions from black culture. In addition to that, many brands have failed to represent BIPOC. Reformation is just one example amongst many others who have failed to feature BIPOC models. The fashion industry needs to stand up to racism and take decisive action.
Consumers, also, need to do more than just holding brands responsible for labor exploitation and exclusion. You can find information about trade deals and laws that legalise the exploitation of workers in poorer countries by Europe and North America. Support organisations (such as Clean Clothes Campaign, Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Remake, and Labour Behind The label) that are committed to negating this and helping the workers. Alternatively, switch to ethical and sustainable brands owned by BIPOC.
The future of fast fashion is highly dependent on the fashion industry’s responsibility to prioritize employees over profits. In the wake of the current circumstances, consumers are likely to be more mindful of their purchases because of both financial and moral reasons. Thus, fast fashion may see a decline in profit margins. Aja Barber reiterated the need for more ethical and sustainable companies.  Fast fashion has always been quick to jump on-board with anything that is trendy and newsworthy. So, we can at least hope that ethics, inclusivity, and sustainability could be the new trend adopted by the fashion industry.