According to an expose by The Los Angeles Times, Forever 21, and discount fashion brands like it, are using factories in Los Angeles that pay workers less than minimum wage, but are avoiding financial liability under cover of a law designed to prevent sweatshop labor.
The law in question allows “workers to recoup back wages from their factory boss, and any garment manufacturing company that does business with that person,” which is good. But, the law also allows for a distinction between “manufacturers” and “retailers,” and Forever 21 holds firm that it is a retailer and “thus is always at least one step removed.” And they’re not the only ones exploiting that loophole.
“The U.S. Department of Labor investigated 77 Los Angeles garment factories from April through July of 2016 and found that workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour days spent sewing clothes for Forever 21, Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx.” They even found one worker who “made as little as $3.42 per hour during three weeks of sewing TJ Maxx clothing.”
And while many sewing factories in Los Angeles have paid back “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to workers they underpaid before the anti-sweatshop regulation went into effect, Forever 21 has paid exactly zero cents in the hundreds of claims filed against them because of their retailer status.
And that’s especially troubling since Forever 21, and brands like it, are precisely the reason the wages are so low in the first place. “This whole problem devolves from the retailer,” David Weil, the former head of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which led the investigation, told the LA Times. “They force the production costs to as low as they want because of their power in the supply chain, with the result of ultimately the workers bearing the whole cost and risk of the system.”
You can read more about it at The Los Angeles Times.