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Why Peacocks is in the firing line of the #PayUp Campaign

Campaigner and blogger, Mayisha Begum on Peacocks and the #PayUp Campaign.

As COVID-19 rapidly spread across the world, resulting in country-wide lockdowns, fashion brands sought ways to minimise the losses inevitably coming their way. 

Their solution? Cancel orders with the garment factories making their clothes, including orders that had already been completed or were in the process of being completed. 

As a result, factory owners have been unable to cover the costs of production for cancelled orders, including workers' wages, and thousands of workers have now faced factory closures, unpaid wages, and mass layoffs (particularly union members).

Following the news of these cancellations, and the mobilisation of activists and trade unions in apparel-producing countries, global citizens took to social media, to demand brands #PayUp.  As a result several brands, including ASOS, Gap and more recently Primark, agreed to pay for cancelled orders.

There are numerous brands still reluctant to pay their workers, but it’s that Peacocks has become a prime target for campaigners, due to its treatment of suppliers, its contradictory messaging on philanthropy, and the brands’ shocking response to the public backlash.

Peacocks, "the worst in the industry”

As brand after brand cancelled their orders, one of the most prominent culprits in the UK was the Edinburgh Woollen Mills (EWM) group, the parent company of brands including Peacocks, Austin Reed and Jaeger. The group is owned by Philip Day, a billionaire with an estimated fortune of $1.2bn.

According to Bangladeshi suppliers, the company owes over £27 million to factory owners, after they cancelled orders for tens of thousands of items.

In addition they also demanded up to 70% discounts on millions of pounds worth of other goods. Mostafiz Uddin, a supplier in Bangladesh, described the actions of EWM as, “...the worst in the industry,”.

To make matters worse, EWM did little to engage in dialogue with suppliers. For example, when Peacocks cancelled their goods, Mostafiz tried to explain to them that he had already paid for the raw materials to complete orders. However, he only received automated responses.

The impact of their refusal to pay what they owe compelled 30 Bangladeshi suppliers to send EWM a letter, warning the company that they would “have no option but take the decision to place an embargo and blacklist the buyers and their agents who do not comply with our instructions."

Considering the importance of investment from multinational brands for Bangladesh’s economy, the threat to blacklist a company such as EWM indicates the extent of the devastation that their cancellations have caused.

According to The Independent, Peacocks said it had given suppliers three options: keep the stock and sell it locally, accept a discounted price for the orders, or wait until Peacocks decided to take the stock for a payment. 

However, Uddin explains that these aren’t really options. Suppliers can’t wait until brands like Peacocks decide when it’s most convenient for them to pay for their orders. They are heavily in debt and cannot pay their workers. They need the money now.

Philanthropic cover-ups

As Peacocks created unimaginable chaos in the garment industry, and workers were left unpaid and unsure how to make ends meet, the brand took to social media to show their ardent support for everyone in lockdown, and in particular, NHS workers on the frontlines. They went all-out, celebrating their ‘Peacocks heroes’ , and offering NHS workers discounts and gift cards.

I don’t need to elaborate on the irony in Peacocks showing solidarity with NHS workers and their customers during the pandemic, while simultaneously refusing to support their own workers during this time, making them increasingly vulnerable to the virus.

If Peacocks truly cares about everyone staying safe during the pandemic, why have they left their own workers out to dry?

Active silencing of criticism

Therefore Peacocks became one of the primary targets of the #PayUp campaign. While some brands responded to the campaign, and agreed to pay in full for cancelled orders, many simply ignored our calls, and even attempted to justify their callous decision when questioned by the media. Peacocks, however, took it one step further, and blocked anyone who criticised them on social media, while limiting the ability to comment on their Instagram posts.

This shocking yet unsurprising attempt to silence the valid concerns we had for their workers was a sinister reminder of how far brands will go to protect their public image, while exerting no efforts into actually protecting their workers.

Enraged, No Sweat and Oh So Ethical organised a day of action against Peacocks, calling on people to demand Peacocks not only pay their workers, but end the attempts to silence us, using the hashtag #PeacocksPayUp. To date we have received no response from the brand. They have stopped blocking people on Instagram but unfortunately have been hiding people’s comments instead.

Collective action is imperative

It has now been six months since the campaign began. As more brands continue to U-turn in the face of public outcry, we will continue until all brands, including Peacocks, have committed to paying their workers.

It is the very least we can do to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the global South, who are paving the way to justice through consistent mobilising and organising on the ground, and subjected to the very worst consequences of capitalism and corporate greed, while.

Follow @No_Sweat and @OhSoEthical for updates on future actions against brands.

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