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Stitching Up Garment Manufacturing
Abuses in California

Posted November 2021 by S. Ward Heinrichs

Stitching Up Garment Manufacturing Abuses in California

Many workers’ rights organizations have warned of the abuses in the garment manufacturing industry, both worldwide and in the U.S.  Clothing Brands generally contract with manufacturers, or middlemen, to produce the clothing designs that the Brands have created.  The manufacturers will put the Brand label on the clothes.  Unfortunately, the people actually making the clothes often work in sweatshops or from home, and they are often paid far below minimum wage.

Garment workers in the United States usually work for piece rate.  That means they get paid per garment produced.  Piece rate is not illegal in California, but garment manufacturers in California are known to pay less than minimum wage through the use of piece rate.  General California labor law requires employers who pay piece rate to pay at least minimum wage and legal overtime.  However, garment manufactures, and the factories that they use, often ignore California minimum wage and overtime requirements.  (See, https://garmentworkercenter.org/get-informed/)  The factories can avoid detection by informally popping up without regard to licensing laws.  If challenged by authorities, they often simply close shop and re-open somewhere else.  (Ibid.)

To combat those abuses, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Garment Workers Protection Act.  It will go into effect on January 1, 2022.  It outlaws piece rate pay for Garment workers and creates liability for Brands, manufactures, factories, and contractor middlemen.  In other words, if a factory underpays its employees or pays piece rate, the Brand who contracted with a middleman, who contracted with a manufacturer, who, in turn, contracted with a factory, is liable.  In fact, every party in the long chain of contractors will be liable.

Unfortunately, only about 45,000 employees work in the California garment industry.  (Ibid.)  Throughout the world, the garment industry employs about 40 million workers.  (See, https://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/human-rights/)  Many of them work in countries that have very little protections and where they get paid even less than the workers in the U.S.  (See, https://www.businessoffashion.com/news/global-markets/garment-workers-remain-unpaid-even-as-fashion-giants-return-to-profit)  The new California protections may only serve to drive the relatively little manufacturing here to other parts of the world.

  Contact Ward Heinrichs at: 858-292-0792

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