The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragilities and inequities in global garment supply chains. In early 2020, global apparel brands and retailers were confronted with a steep and sudden drop in consumer demand. They responded by suspending or cancelling orders with their suppliers worldwide. Many brands, such as Primark and Topshop, refused to pay for orders that were in production, already produced or even shipped. Others demanded sharp discounts on the agreed price before accepting the produced goods.
The policy paper Farce majeure: How global apparel brands are using the COVID-19 pandemic to stiff suppliers and abandon workers by ECCHR, ILAW and the Worker Rights Consortium explores the power imbalances between brands and suppliers, and their contractual manifestation. It examines the law of force majeure and related doctrines, and how they apply to the current circumstances. The paper explains how brands violate their due diligence obligations through cancelling orders. It also calls for better access to accountability mechanisms for workers to enforce brands’ responsible supply chain practices.