Rue Neuve, Brussels’ busiest shopping street, woke up this morning to find an enormous sign painted on the ground reading ‘Pay your workers’.
The street art, or graffiti if you will, was carried out overnight, and is the work of three groups: the street art collective pARTerre, the group achACT (Actions Consommateurs Travailleurs) and Schone Kleren Campagne.
The campaign is aimed at clothing retailers, especially but not exceptionally low-cost chains like Primark, H&M and Nike (all of whom have a presence on Rue Neuve), who have their stock produced in low-wage countries where working conditions are poor, which allows them to sell at low prices to consumers in richer countries.
The problem has been around for a long time, but the current pandemic has made things worse, as the retail industry is suffering in the west, leading to reduced demand for manufacturing, and the consequent cutting of jobs in the developing world, where they also have pandemic problems of their own.
“We have estimated that there has been a loss of between €2.7 billion and €4.9 billion in unpaid wages between March and May 2020,” said Sara Ceustermans of the Schone Kleren Campaign (SKC) in a press release.
“Already affected by deplorable working conditions aside from Covid-19, the disaster has hit full force, and plunged millions of people into extreme poverty. Even in good years, the profits of these companies are not shared, but today the weight of the crisis is being shared with the workers.”
The action is allied to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network of some 230 organisations militating for fair and safe conditions in the garment and sportswear industries. The organisations involved in this latest action claim the companies represented on the shopping street are guilty of “numerous violations of rights in their supply lines”.
“These companies need to make a commitment now to the workers who produce their goods, and if they do, others will surely do the same,” said Sanna Abdessalem of achACT.