Showing posts with label business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label business. Show all posts

Rapid Shift to Clean Energy Could Save ‘Trillions.’ But Corporate-Backed Groups Are Fighting the Transition in US Budget Bill

Wind, solar, and batteries are already the cheapest source of electricity and an aggressive shift to clean energy makes more economic sense than a slow one, according to a new study. However, an enormous lobbying effort is underway to block climate policy in the $3.5 trillion budget bill under consideration.

Wind turbines
Public Domain image via Pixabay
By Nick Cunningham September 29, 2021
This article was originally published on DeSmog

A slow transition away from fossil fuels would be “more expensive” than a rapid shift to renewable energy, according to a new study, a conclusion that stands in sharp contrast to fossil fuel industry talking points aimed at heading off aggressive climate policy currently being shaped in Congress.

An accelerated clean energy transition would lead to “net savings of many trillions of dollars,” a calculation that does not even take into account the damages from unchecked climate chaos, the recently released study from Oxford University found. On economics alone, the logic of a rapid shift to renewable energy is obvious and necessary. 

“The belief that the green energy transition will be expensive has been a major driver of the ineffective response to climate change for the last forty years,” the researchers write. “This pessimism is at odds with past technological cost-improvement trends, and risks locking humanity into an expensive and dangerous energy future.”

The authors note that outdated thinking on renewable energy — that it comes with tradeoffs like higher electricity prices, for instance — has long dominated policy discussions. Echoes of this idea can be found today in mounting attacks by a network of lobbyists and think tanks on the climate provisions in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package.

But that line of argument has been inaccurate for years, and the Oxford study says it is now decisively wrong. “Our analysis suggests that such trade-offs are unlikely to exist: a greener, healthier and safer global energy system is also likely to be cheaper,” they write [original emphasis].

The U.S. has a chance to solidify an accelerated track towards cleaner energy. The Democrats in Congress are working on legislation that would push the U.S. electricity system to roughly 80 percent carbon-free power by 2030, a definition that includes hydro and nuclear power, up from around 40 percent today.

The so-called Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) is complex, but it essentially rewards utilities that move quickly to add renewable energy to their portfolios with each passing year, while imposing fees on laggards who move slowly.

As the Washington Post reports, the largest corporate entities in the country, including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, and powerful lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, are pulling out all stops to prevent passage of the budget bill.

Industry Ramps Up Misinformation  

Building the more than 600 gigawatts of solar, wind, and batteries needed to get to the 2030 target would put a lot of people to work. One study from the Analysis Group finds that the CEPP would help create an estimated 7.7 million net new jobs over the next decade as the electricity sector moves rapidly to scale up renewables. 

But the win-win logic of creating jobs and cleaning up the electricity sector is not the message that industry front groups and their lobbyists are engaging with.

In the past few weeks, a constellation of right-wing think tanks, front groups, and trade associations have mobilized to defeat the CEPP, as well as the broader $3.5 trillion budget package — nicknamed the Build Back Better bill — under consideration by the Democrats in Congress.

Many of the misleading talking points being pushed by these lobbyists take the familiar form of outdated notions that renewable energy is expensive. They also opportunistically try to link the proposed bill to electricity blackouts, which have occurred in various parts of the country this year, including from soaring temperatures in California and extreme winter storms in Texas, while conspicuously ignoring the fact that these disasters are made worse by climate change.

For example, the Institute for Energy Research and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliancewarned that the CEPP would lead to “skyrocketing costs and rolling blackouts,” and that it will “kill the U.S. economy.” Both groups have extensive ties to Koch Industries and regularly push pro-fossil fuel rhetoric.

Other groups have sought to revive well-worn arguments about wasteful spending, while adopting a new campaign warning about inflation. Indeed, raising the dangers of inflation has become one of the central attack lines by right-wing groups in recent months as the budget negotiations drag on.

For example, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a group founded by David Koch, has held public events in August and September that put pressure on Congress to “end Washington waste,” and warn about inflation, an echo of the Tea Party events from 2009, which in many ways was an astroturf phenomenon.

In one September 17 post on its website, AFP linked to an analysis by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which recently launched an Inflation Tracker. IWF says the “inflationary” $3.5 trillion plan would “hurt poor, elderly, minorities.” IWF also has extensive Koch ties.

The Wall Street Journal looked at AFP’s recent attempts to drum up anger at federal spending and found that the front group is struggling to break through with conservatives who are more animated by culture war issues related to mask mandates and vaccine requirements. In an effort to appeal to people, AFP has been “name-checking” mask mandates, and then trying to connect them to the dangers of big government in general, and urging people to oppose the budget bill.

In September, the purportedly non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders as their “Porkers of the Month,” a derisive award it hands out to government officials who “endanger America’s financial stability.” CAGW, which has received funding from tobacco companiesExxon, and right-wing foundations, uses similar talking points: the budget bill is costly, will push up inflation, and will result in taxes on American families.

Right-wing groups don’t oppose all government spending on energy. The National Taxpayers Union, which claims it fights for free enterprise and against government waste, recently defended oil subsidies while criticizing incentives for renewables.

But these are all small examples of what has become a massive corporate lobbying blitz to kill the budget bill. As the Washington Post reports, the largest corporate entities in the country, including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, and powerful lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, are pulling out all stops to prevent passage of the budget bill.

As the Post reports, the Chamber is spending heavily on ads targeting the handful of wavering corporate-friendly Democrats, and has vowed to cut off support for any member of Congress that votes in favor. 

DeSmog reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for Energy Research, the Independent Women’s Forum, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Prosperity. IER responded but did not provide comments in time for publication.

Only AFP answered questions. When DeSmog cited the Oxford study and the cheap cost of renewable energy, Lorenz Isidro, an AFP spokesperson, said: “Top down energy mandates like the Clean Electricity Standard do little if anything to actually improve the environment but would increase energy rates, make everything we buy more expensive, and leave everyone worse off, particularly the least fortunate.”

But as the Oxford study shows, renewable energy is the cheapest source of power generation, and a faster transition results in more economic benefits. The corporate ad and lobbying campaign currently underway is full of misinformation.

“I am not surprised to see the oil & gas industry lobbying to water down efforts to replace their energy product with renewables + storage,” Matthew Ives, one of the authors of the study, wrote in an email. “They have been actively lobbying to reduce investment in renewables for a long time but I don’t think they, even with their wealth and influence, could hold back the tide of technological advance that is happening in these new clean technologies,” he wrote, adding: “I’m afraid the train has left the station.”

Arguments about inflation also appear opportunistic; economists are debating whether inflation is a temporary phenomenon related to the pandemic. In any event, the suite of social and economic programs included in the budget reconciliation bill — paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, an expansion of Medicare, free community college, to name a few — are aimed at lowering the largest expenses in most people’s lives. 

In fact, an analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that most of the benefits of the budget bill are concentrated on the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, and just about every American would receive a tax cut except for the richest 5 percent.

On top of that, the tax hikes on the rich are intended to offset the cost of the overall package, so claims of enormous deficits are inaccurate. Finally, the spending is spread out over ten years, not all at once.

Whether or not the claims are accurate, Republican politicians and right-wing groups have seized on inflation as an intentional messaging campaign to scare the public away from the budget bill.

Their sky-is-falling rhetoric about renewable energy is part of a longer pattern of behavior of manipulating economic data, says Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director for climate and energy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, told DeSmog.

“Fossil fuel companies are not reliable economic messengers,” she said. “They seem to be just all-in on delaying the transition in a way that might protect quarter-to-quarter returns to shareholders, but the evidence is mounting that it could prove financially ruinous for everyone and for the economy.”

“It gives us an opportunity to jump start clean energy in West Virginia. We’re still 91 percent coal-fired, and our electricity customers have paid massive rate increases over the last 10 to 12 years because we’ve doubled down on coal unlike most other states,”

All Eyes on Manchin

The language used by corporate lobbying outfits on costly renewables, inflation and debt appear carefully crafted to appeal to one senator in particular: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the pivotal vote in the Senate. At times, the language used by corporate lobbyists very closely echoes Sen. Manchin’s own arguments.

In a widely circulated op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in early September, Sen. Manchin expressed his opposition to the budget bill, warning of excessive spending and inflation. He also argued how spending today could leave the country ill-positioned for some future crisis.

Notably, the Chamber of Commerce seemingly adopted Sen. Manchin’s argument as its own, although it repurposed it to warn against the Chamber’s chief concern, the proposed higher corporate tax rates. “[T]ax increases will lessen the resiliency of our economy when crisises [sic] hit, making it more difficult to recover when the next inevitably does come,” the Chamber’s senior economist Curtis Dubay wrote.

Whether they are sharing talking points is unknown, but the Chamber very explicitly says that it is rewarding Sen. Manchin with campaign contributions, along with Democrats wavering on the budget bill.

On September 22, the Chamber launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting a handful of Democrats, urging them to block the entire budget bill, calling it an “existential threat to America’s fragile economic recovery.”

Sen. Manchin holds outsized influence over the final outcome. While he has expressed concerns about the CEPP, what he seems to ignore is the enormous opportunity that his home state of West Virginia could see from the budget bill in general, and the CEPP in particular.

“It gives us an opportunity to jump start clean energy in West Virginia. We’re still 91 percent coal-fired, and our electricity customers have paid massive rate increases over the last 10 to 12 years because we’ve doubled down on coal unlike most other states,” James Van Nostrand, a law professor at West Virginia University and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, told DeSmog. “Coal is not a cost-effective way to generate electricity anymore.”

A new study from RMI, a sustainability think tank, finds that compared to other regions in the U.S., Appalachia would see the biggest economic benefit from the growth of renewable energy over the next decade.

Van Nostrand agreed. “West Virginia would benefit disproportionately from all the money that would come out of the Clean Electricity Payment Program,” he said.

Sen. Manchin has repeatedly questioned why there is urgency around the budget bill, an odd claim given the accelerating climate crisis and the policy programs addressing it within the bill. The United Nations said on September 17 that unless the world dramatically accelerates climate policy to speed up the energy transition, the world is on track to warm to a catastrophic 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “climate alarm bells” are “ringing at fever pitch.” If emissions are not cut drastically, Guterres says the world is in for a “hellscape of temperature rises.”

In early September, a group of 94 organizations, including environmental, faith, justice, and labor groups, sent a letter to Congress, calling on them to stand up to corporate lobbyists and pass the budget bill. “Now is not the time to let deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists stand in the way of vital public investments in an economy that works for all of us,” they wrote.

“Manchin knows better. He clearly knows better. He could deliver such huge benefits for West Virginia … Why would you say no to this? This is a no-brainer,” Van Nostrand told DeSmog.

Recently, the Intercept reported that Sen. Manchin continues to earn more than a half million dollars per year from his personal stake in his coal business. The New York Times pointed out that Sen. Manchin will preside over the Senate Committee in charge of writing the CEPP, while also being the Senator who has received more campaign donations from the oil and gas industry than any of his colleagues last year. Sen. Manchin did not respond to a request for comment.

Van Nostrand hopes that Sen. Manchin will realize the monumental opportunity that he has at the moment. “What is your legacy going to be? What are you going to put on your tombstone?” he said. “You’re the guy who blocked massive amounts of money that could have come to West Virginia because it wasn’t good for the coal industry and your own personal financial interest?”

This article is republished from DeSmog under a Creative Commons license.
DeSmog was founded in January 2006 to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science and solutions to climate change. Their team quickly became the world’s number one source for accurate, fact-based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns.

Biden Brings Big Brother to Your Bank Account

The Biden administration has presented a plan that would compel banks and other financial institutions to provide the IRS with an annual report on clients' account inflows and outflows of $600 or greater.

Photo by olia danilevich from Pexels

By Andrew MoranSeptember 27, 2021

This article was originally published in Liberty Nation News

One of President Joe Biden’s chief economic policies is to provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with $80 billion to collect more taxes to fund his extravagant agenda. This consists of hiring more enforcement officers and beefing up audits of high-income earners. But the administration has also proposed another method to confirm greater compliance: force financial institutions to turn over clients’ bank account information to the IRS. Not everyone is pleased by this idea, and the banks are pushing back against something they assert would be a “liability” nightmare.

Giving The IRS More Money And Power

The Biden administration recently outlined a plan that would require banks and other financial entities to offer the U.S. government an annual report on customers’ account inflows and outflows of $600 or more to the tax-collecting agency. This measure would apply to banking, investment, and loan accounts, and it is estimated to generate approximately $463 billion in additional revenue over the next decade.

If Congress approves this policy mechanism, the IRS will garner sweeping new powers and information to extract more wealth from taxpayers. However, the banks are not enthusiastic about the plan, arguing that it would increase compliance costs and add more paperwork to an industry that reports millions of $10,000-plus transactions every day to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FCEN).

According to the Treasury Department, the public reports less than half of their total income when additional earning sources, such as freelance income or rental earnings, are not confirmed by a third party.

Forty banks sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), urging lawmakers to reject the president’s idea. The coalition letter, which includes the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA), American Bankers Association (ABA), and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), warned of the “tremendous liability” regarding the collection, storage, protection, and the use of “this enormous trove of personal financial information.” They added:

“This proposal would create significant operational and reputational challenges for financial institutions, increase tax preparation costs for individuals and small businesses, and create serious financial privacy concerns. We urge members to oppose any efforts to advance this ill-advised new reporting regime.

“Privacy concerns are cited as one of the top reasons why individuals choose not to open financial accounts and participate in the financial system. This proposal would almost certainly undermine efforts to reach vulnerable populations and unbanked households.”

But, in a memo to congressional Democrats, White House officials stated this “basic, high-level information” can help the IRS locate “flags” when high-income account holders under-report their income and, thus, “under-pay their obligations.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also recommended the House add the proposal to the broader $3.5 trillion spending package that can help shrink the tax gap and make sure “tax evaders are not able to structure financial accounts to avoid it.”

Citing a House Democrat source, Bloomberg reported that legislators are brokering an agreement that would “not have the $600,” but instead raise the threshold to $10,000. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) told reporters, “You want to make sure it doesn’t hit the unintended. You don’t want to hit people at the lower end.” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) also wants to adjust the plan to concentrate on wealthy Americans.

Finding Tax Revenue

According to the Treasury Department, the public reports less than half of their total income when additional earning sources, such as freelance income or rental earnings, are not confirmed by a third party. So, while the Treasury avers that tax compliance is at 99% for funds that are verified by another entity, there is a chasm of accurate tax reporting. This is concerning for a U.S. government spending between $4 trillion and $5 trillion a year and running a federal deficit of more than $3 trillion. Uncle Sam needs to try to scour through every avenue to create revenue to keep the lights on.

This article originally appeared in Liberty Nation News on September 25, 2021
Liberty Nation News offers commentary, analysis and opinions – the good, the bad and the ugly — on all things related to American public policy and the political discourse.

Our Gods Have No Heads

We’re on a planet-sized haunted hayride to Armageddon, and no one is driving.

Sure at first glance it looks like someone’s driving. It appears that there are governments which are run by elected officials, and that those officials get together regularly with the officials from other governments to determine how the world should be run.

Then you look a bit closer and you discover that’s not how it works at all. The official elected governments are controlled by corporate and financial plutocratic institutions which have no loyalty to the citizenry of any nation they dominate, with wealth poured into manipulating those governments proportionate to their importance in securing the interests of the plutocracy.

Then you look closer still and it gets even weirder, because you see that even the plutocrats aren’t really calling the shots themselves. What’s ultimately driving things is not so much the people within those institutions as the institutions themselves, which operate based on motives of profit and growth that are built into them and are entirely divorced from normal human values.

You see this evidenced in the way these entities actively and deliberately select executives with “dark personality traits”, i.e. narcissists and sociopaths, because ethical and empathic people will not do the things that are necessary to advance the agendas of those entities. The executive isn’t choosing cutthroat actions for the corporation to make, the corporation is choosing executives who will enact its cutthroat agendas.

In the old days we invented gods to worship who we pretended lived in the heavens, and we talked about miracles and divine intervention. Now we invent gods who live right here on earth, and we talk about profit margins and market forces. The only difference between the old gods and the new is that the high priests of old had their own personal agendas served by their religion, whereas the new high priests actually serve the agendas of their gods.

And the problem of course is that these are not wise and beneficent gods, they are manmade conceptual constructs with no more intelligence or insight than that growth-at-all-cost values system held by a cancerous tumor. The modern gods are mindless devourers who are controlled by no one. The modern gods have no heads.

As Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath:

“We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.”

“Yes, but the bank is only made of men.”

“No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

So now we are watching our world be devoured by these headless modern gods, because ecocide is profitable and leads to growth. Because exploitation is profitable and leads to growth. Because war is profitable and leads to growth. Because infiltrating government power is profitable and leads to growth.

They will not stop until there is nothing left to devour. There is nothing built into these massive devourers which could ever tell them to stop. They cannot stop, they can only be stopped.

At some point we’re going to realize that market forces and the profit motive do not have the wisdom to navigate through the existential crises humanity now faces. The only question is whether we’ll realize this in time to do something about it, or realize it in our final gasps as a species.

The modern gods to not serve us. We can only create a healthy world when we find it within ourselves to stand up to their infernal religion, chop off their headless heads, and begin replacing the gods who ruled us with systems designed to benefit humans.

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Garment Workers Win Historic Victory in Effort to Transform the Fashion Industry

The PayUp campaign has clawed back $22 billion from apparel companies owed to factories and workers, and they’re just getting started.

By Loretta Graceffo - September 14, 2021
This article was originally published on Waging Nonviolence

In March 2020, Amanda Lee McCarty was laid off from her job.

For years, she had been working in the fashion industry as a buyer and product developer. But as COVID-19 cases surged and lockdown orders were implemented across the world, retailers were faced with a dramatic plummet in consumer demand for clothing. McCarty, who had been the sole breadwinner in her family for most of her life, was left without a steady income or health insurance.

McCarty wasn’t the only one in the global apparel industry whose future was thrust into uncertainty.

Thousands of miles away, in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, apparel factories had just received catastrophic news from retailers in the West. In order to offset the financial losses of the pandemic, executives had made a swift and nearly universal decision: They were going to steal $40 billion from their most vulnerable workers. 

“This wasn’t theoretical money,” said Elizabeth L. Cline, who works with the consumer activist nonprofit Remake. “This was garment workers not being paid for work already done, which is slavery.”

For many brands, this theft was not only legal, but outlined in their contracts with factories overseas, which enabled them to cancel orders at any time. Retailers cited a force majeure clause to claim that they didn’t need to take clothing they had ordered before the pandemic — and they also didn’t have to pay for it, even if the product had already been made after hundreds of hours of painstaking labor.

This decision was enforced by nearly all of the world’s most profitable apparel companies, only 20 of whom control 97 percent of the industry’s profits. Among the offenders were Walmart, Sears, Kohl’s, Nike, Forever 21, H&M, Gap, Adidas, The Children’s Place and Ross Stores.

What followed was one of the largest transfers of wealth from the Global South to the West in recent history.

The effect of the cancellations was immediate: factories, who could no longer afford to pay textile mills and workers, were forced to shut their doors. Millions of garment workers, most of them young women, were sent home without severance or pay.

While wealthy fashion brands continued to deliver shareholder payouts, workers already living in poverty were plunged even deeper into debt and starvation. 

“Why were companies so comfortable robbing their factories in the middle of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes?” Cline said. “It had a lot to do with the fact that the people impacted were in the Global South. They were women of color, who companies were used to being able to subjugate without any consequences — who they thought weren’t going to stand up to them.”

The companies were wrong. In a matter of days, a movement was born, comprised of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and thousands of garment workers, grassroots organizers and consumers across the globe. They named their first campaign after their primary demand: PayUp.

By March 2021, PayUp had secured $22 billion from brands who had initially refused to pay, and laid bare the exploitation fundamental to the global supply chain. It was one of the most successful labor rights campaigns in the fashion industry in modern times — and activists say they’re just getting started.

“This is an industry that is part of every person’s life, but nobody really knows what happens behind the scenes,” said McCarty, who became a vocal advocate for the movement after being laid off from her job. “If a brand is refusing to pay up, it’s likely they’re paying slave wages in the first place, and not caring about the climate and burning billions of dollars of excess clothing every year. When you take a step back, the fashion industry is really a case study of everything that is wrong in the world right now.” 

“If a brand is refusing to pay up, it’s likely they’re paying slave wages in the first place, not caring about the climate and burning billions of dollars of excess clothing every year.”

Holding brands accountable

From its foundation, PayUp’s strategy has been to discern which brands are moveable and to then target those brands using grassroots pressure. 

“We knew if we were going to wait for fashion brands to gain a conscience, nothing was going to change,” said Cline, one of the founders of the movement. “It was public knowledge who canceled, so we had a list of companies and the amount of money they owed, but we needed a bigger picture of what was happening.”

Because of this, the testimony of garment workers themselves has been critical to the success of PayUp. In November 2020, the Worker Rights Consortium released a survey of garment workers who had lost their jobs across Cambodia, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Lesotho and Myanmar. Nearly 75 percent of these workers reported going into debt to buy food since the pandemic began. Many described skipping meals in order to feed their families, being unable to afford food with protein, and having to withdraw their children from school due to lack of funds. 

Garment workers who remained employed, many of whom were working overtime to produce personal protective equipment for countries in the West, were similarly plunged into destitution. Even as the world’s most profitable fashion brands saw an 11 percent increase in value over the past year, garment workers experienced pay cuts averaging around 21 percent. 

“When you’re working in the industry, you know there are people that aren’t being paid, but they’re sort of these ‘others’ that you don’t know,” McCarty said. “It allows you to say, ‘Oh, things are different where they live’ or ‘These people are unskilled.’ All these other functions of racism, classism and colonialism are so baked into every person.”

By the summer of 2020, #PayUp had been shared on social media millions of times. A petition, which was sent to over 200 fashion executives directly, garnered nearly 300,000 signatures calling on companies to pay for the cancellations. Behind the scenes, NGOs and activist groups like Remake, the Worker Rights Consortium and Clean Clothes Campaign moved in tandem to negotiate with brands. 

This pressure was combined with direct action by workers around the world. In response to factory shutdowns that left thousands in the apparel industry without jobs, workers in Myanmar went on strike, eventually securing a wage bonus and union recognition through a two-week sit-in. In Cambodia, around one hundred workers marched to the Ministry of Labor to submit a petition requesting compensation after their factory shut down. When they weren’t offered a resolution, protesters continued their march to the prime minister’s house, where they were blocked by nearly 50 police officers. 

Similar actions took place in Pakistan after factories cut holiday bonuses that usually allowed rural workers to return home for Eid. Striking workers gathered in protest outside factories, chanting slogans demanding better wages even as police fired shots into the crowd. In Bangladesh, garment workers who staged protests outside factories were also met with opposition, with many workers reporting that they had been attacked by police with batons, water cannons and tear gas while they were sleeping.

To date, 21 brands monitored by PayUp have committed to paying for cancelled orders in full, unlocking a total of $22 billion for factories and garment workers globally. Eighteen brands have still refused to pay — and many have deleted #PayUp comments on their social media accounts in an attempt to shut down the conversation. 

“We need contractually enforceable commitments from brands, and we need brands and unions sitting across the table in real negotiation.”

A deepening crisis

Despite the tremendous victories of the PayUp campaign so far, the past few months have revealed worrying trends within the industry, and the crisis surrounding garment workers continues to worsen. The vast majority of the money PayUp secured from brands went to factories, enabling them to pay their debts to textile mills and stay open. While this has potentially prevented even more disastrous factory closures and mass layoffs, most workers still haven’t received their stolen wages — and the crisis surrounding the garment industry continues to deepen.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen retailers squeezing factories for lower costs and pushing them for faster turnaround,” McCarty said. “Even more product is being imported into our country by plane, instead of by boat, so the carbon footprint is even worse — and people overseas are being paid even less. We have to end the cycle now.”

One year after the founding of PayUp, garment workers who are struggling for survival have yet to see any financial relief from brands. There is also the issue of safety; in Sri Lanka, over 7,000 cases of coronavirus, more than half the nation’s total, were traced back to a factory that manufactures clothing for Victoria’s Secret.

In many apparel-making countries, garment workers who demand safety measures have been met with brutal repression, facing threats, physical attacks, dismissal and imprisonment for speaking up or attempting to organize. One of the most recent examples of this repression took place in March, when nearly 1,000 garment workers who produce clothing for Primark were allegedly locked inside factories for hours to prevent them from joining anti-coup protests in Myanmar. 

“Brands’ labor codes and monitoring systems don’t exist to protect workers,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.“ They exist to protect the image and reputation of brands … even as they squeeze suppliers on price, driving down working conditions and wages.”

Perhaps the most compelling illustration of the failures of self-regulation can be seen in garment factories in Bangladesh. For decades, these factories were notorious for being little more than death traps. Despite frequent mass fatality fires and factory collapses, major brands and retailers continued to tout their voluntary codes of conduct as a reliable method of protecting workers. It was only after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 — a disaster that killed 1,134 people and injured another 2,500 — that meaningful protections were put into place. 

Even as rescue workers were still searching for survivors in the rubble, thousands of garment workers and relatives of the dead rose up, storming the streets of Dhaka to demand safer working conditions. 

Within a month, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was launched, requiring independent building inspections and reviews of safety standards. The accord functions as an international compact between NGOs, Western manufacturers and Bangladeshi and global unions. Since the program began, two and a half million garment workers have been working under vastly safer conditions — and Nova believes the accord can serve as a roadmap for accomplishing PayUp’s long-term goals.

“We need contractually enforceable commitments from brands, and we need brands and unions sitting across the table in real negotiation,” Nova said. “If we want brands to behave responsibly, we need to get it in writing.”

Last fall, PayUp founder Ayesha Barenblat sat down with the founder of the Awaj Foundation, an NGO that represents 600,000 garment workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Together, they launched the website for Pay Up Fashion, where they outlined seven demands for action going forward: worker’s safety, transparency, giving workers a platform, enforceable contracts, an end to starvation wages and the implementation of labor laws. 

“Besides a handful of rich factory owners, executives and shareholders, it’s an industry where there aren’t a lot of people benefiting,” Cline said. “I think brands wanted a pat on the back after they paid up, but for us, the campaign revealed everything that’s broken about the fashion industry.”

Resisting a return to business as usual

Around the same time PayUp was founded, McCarty utilized her insider experience to launch Clotheshorse, a podcast exposing dark truths about the world of fast fashion. It was the start of a new chapter — and an inadvertent decision to never return to the industry, no matter the financial consequences.

“Coming from a lower-class background, it’s been challenging knowing what goes on behind-the-scenes and having to keep going,” McCarty said. “For so long, I felt like a hamster running in a wheel, going to this toxic, abusive job that I hated. There is something very strange and liberating about no longer having a job, because now I can speak the truth about it.”

Over the course of more than 60 episodes, Clotheshorse has explored issues like labor rights, greenwashing, consumerism and the PayUp movement. McCarty often features the stories of retail workers, who can call through a hotline to speak about common practices such as non-disclosure agreements, wage theft and requirements that unsold merchandise be destroyed.

Before long, McCarty was getting up to a hundred messages a day from fashion lovers and activists. Though the pandemic prevented them from meeting in person, Clotheshorse listeners began coming together online to call out brands, quit fast fashion and support one another’s sustainable businesses.

“A lot of people found their lives completely upside down last year, and we’ve all been getting educated about things that we weren’t before,” McCarty said. “It’s amazing that we were all able to find each other and respond to one another’s ideas — I feel so lucky that at least once a week I start to cry.”

As PayUp enters its second year of campaigning, this kind of community building could prove essential to ensuring the movement doesn’t lose momentum.

“PayUp was able to reveal the inner workings of this power dynamic that was hidden from view for a long time,” Cline said. “That’s made it much easier to propose reforms, but everybody has to be ready to fight for the long haul. The fashion industry we want to see is going to take commitment and perseverance — and a belief that anything is possible.”

Loretta Graceffo is a writer, artist and activist from New Jersey. She currently attends Saint Peter's University.

This article is republished from Waging Nonviolence under a Creative Commons license.
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Waging Nonviolence is a nonprofit media organization dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world. With a commitment to accuracy, transparency and editorial independence, they examine today’s most crucial issues by shining a light on those who are organizing for just and peaceful solutions.

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