Journaliste: Sarah Vandoorne

Hundreds of RMG workers stage a demonstration demanding due salary by blocking the Kakoli point during the government imposed countrywide lock down amid concerns of coronavirus pandemic posing a risk of spreading Covid-19 in Dhaka on May 4, 2020.

Thousands of garment workers who produce items for top Western fast fashion brands took to Bangladesh's streets to protests against unpaid wages, saying they were more afraid of starving than contracting the coronavirus. Workers shouted slogans such as "we want our wages" and "break the black hands of the owners" as they blocked roads despite a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the deadly disease. (Photo by Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Journalist: Sarah Vandoorne

The following nine brands responded to our questions on our research about the relation of Belgian lockdown and the garment workers in Bangladesh. These brands all came for the leaked dataset with figures about cancelling or postponing orders in Bangladesh due to the corona crisis

Read the research
Response Bruno Van Sieleghem, Head of Sustainability, and Matthieu Leclerq, Head of Operations

1. Stanley/Stella

“Due to exceptional circumstances, we had to put 10% of our orders on hold for 2 months. We reconfirmed the orders in May, with a new delivery date. Since then, payments have been correct, with our normal - for the industry very short - payment period of 25 days. We are 100% sure that our workers have been paid correctly. The suppliers offered a 1% discount, which we thought was fair and accepted. We have a long-term relationship with our suppliers. They were particularly pleased that we had not cancelled our orders, as so many other brands had.”

For competitive reasons, Stanley/Stella have chosen not to share proof of payment with independent journalist Sarah Vandoorne.

Response Valerie Geluykens, CSR manager, and Katrien Vangrunderbeeck, head of communications.

2. JBC

“We do not believe the information you have presented to us is correct. We have not postponed or cancelled any orders. The JBC data in the dataset was taken out of context, according to our supplier: “The source requested those figures to see how many more orders needed to be placed, to put pressure on the government not to close factories during the first corona wave. Subject to a few adjustments in terms of delivery dates, always at the request of the suppliers, everything arrived and was paid as originally agreed. We did not put anything on hold.”

For competitive reasons, JBC does not see fit to share proof of payment with our editorial team. JBC has however shared communications from the supplier stating that no orders have been cancelled and that the figures in the dataset, at least in the case of JBC, are misleading.

Response Roger Van Craen, owner, Bart Heylen, head of finance, and Roel van de Laar, head of purchasing.

3. Malu

“Only one of the orders listed in the document is related to corona: an order for European Championship shirts for a customer was postponed in consultation with the supplier. With the agreement of all parties, these goods have now been shipped and will be delivered to the customer at the beginning of March 2021.”

“We have not cancelled any goods due to corona, but for quality reasons. Oddly enough, these are also in the dataset. The quality samples we had taken beforehand did not match the goods themselves. In the meantime, these goods have been received and paid for. Another highlighted order which according to the list was put on hold, also had to do with print quality and was shipped later. So we did not make any cancellations.”

The dataset mentions imports via Malu BV. This is an error: Malu BV is a sales office based in the Netherlands and does not import any goods.

Malu was initially keen to share proof of agreement and consultation with the supplier with our editorial team. In the end, they decided not to do so for reasons of privacy.

Response Cindy Gakens, head of purchasing

4. LolaLiza

“For the summer and spring collection, we only had to put one order ‘on hold’ because of our lockdown: the goods would have waited in front of a closed department store. After the reopening of the shops, we immediately reactivated the order. For the winter collection, we checked, in consultation with suppliers, which orders were needed, and which could be cancelled. In the end, we did not cancel any orders in full. It goes without saying that the quantities were reduced, these are reductions. For example, we opted not to produce a number of trousers. At the moment, we have no outstanding payments. Moreover, we have already placed part of the orders for the next summer season in Bangladesh, in order to continue our positive cooperation there. It is not as if we have said to our suppliers: just deal with it yourself. We think our partners are very important and we want to continue with them in the future”.

After internal consultation, LolaLiza decided not to share proof of payment with our editors.

Response Patrick Desrumaux, CEO, and Katrien Kennis, head of production.

5. Xandres

“In roughly 95% of cases, Xandres works with small volumes through European suppliers, in countries such as Poland, Portugal and Macedonia. So normally we do not produce in Bangladesh. Incidentally this year we did, for a large customer for whom we make uniforms. They wanted a larger print run of company clothing at a lower price. That will be that order you have in the list of data. The amount is correct. In the meantime, the order has been delivered and paid for. There has been some delay, because Bangladesh has been locked down twice. Normally we would deliver to our client at the end of August, but we were only able to deliver to our client at the end of September. We pay upon approval of the goods and when the goods are ready for shipment. The departure was late, so we paid late, but that was not our fault. Our client in question was also very understanding. All orders from European suppliers were also paid for and delivered. Sometimes they were a little late, but never dramatically late”.

Xandres was at first keen to share proof of payment with researcher Sarah Vandoorne. In the end, they decided against it.

Response Carl Geens, head of purchasing and sustainability

6. Vegotex

“One of our clients did not survive the crisis and filed for bankruptcy. That's the one order we put on hold. We found a concrete solution to this with another group. Those orders are indeed on hold at the moment, but with the intention to still receive these goods”.

“As agreed with our suppliers, we confirmed and paid all orders, at the original price, regardless of the state of production, even with month-long delays. Our customers are retailers and brands, we don't have a shop ourselves. Despite the fact that some retailers had put their delivery on hold, we still imported the orders, paid on time and kept the goods in our warehouses in Sint-Niklaas. As an ethical company, we assume all financial responsibility, as we place and follow up on these orders ourselves. These goods are stored in our warehouses, at our risk”.

For privacy reasons, Vegotex does not consider it appropriate to share a proof of payment with our editorial team unless we visit them in person. For practical reasons (journalist Sarah Vandoorne currently lives in Argentina) this is not possible.

Response owner Christophe Vandevelde

7. Bremed

“We informed the factory in Bangladesh that we were unable to place an order this year. We lost 100% of our sales for this year: usually, we open 6 pop-up shops every year, we stopped that this year. Next year we will resume it. We believe that the situation can be restored next year. We will continue to produce in Bangladesh, but probably less. We have a large quantity of stock at the moment.”

When asked to share proof of payment or proof of communication, Bremed did not reply to the question.

Tine Buysens, CSR manager

8. Bel&Bo

“We have never communicated unilaterally with our suppliers. We have always tried to find reasonable solutions for both parties. For example, an order originally for the end of May, with short sleeves in summer colours, could only be delivered in September. That order would be unsellable so we partly cancelled it, partly postponed it to next season. At another factory there was a fire, some of our goods were in it. We did not get those goods produced again. Other goods were delayed by 6 to 12 weeks. We always consulted. As a Belgian retail chain, we have our partners in Bangladesh. We know the importance of long-term relationships. Throughout this crisis, we want to maintain precisely those relationships and strengthen mutual trust.”

Bel&Bo was keen to share proof of agreement and consultation with their supplier with our editorial team. Bel&Bo did not respond to our request for proofs of payment.

Response C&A in April 2020 via the European communication department

9. C&A

Number of garments for the Belgian market: 3 894 384

Value: 7 481 809.52 euros

Number of workers involved: 35 545

“In these extraordinary circumstances, we are focusing on maintaining liquidity whilst living up to our responsibility to our employees and our suppliers.

We intend to accept delivery of all shipped products. We are in close contact with our suppliers to find flexible, individual arrangements also for garments currently in production, which includes all products at the factories at different levels of production.

According to Worker Rights Consortium, C&A has still not paid for all cancelled orders

These brands did not wish to respond to the questions:

10. Mongrel Fashion (Haze&Finn)

Mongrel Fashion (Haze&Finn) did not wish to respond to an interview request. “The information you have is incorrect. All orders placed in Bangladesh were confirmed and delivered, without exception. I'm afraid your source is not accurate and I cannot help you any further.”

These brands did not wish to respond to the questions:

11. Euro Shoe (Bristol)

Euro Shoe Group has only cancelled part of its summer and winter collection: less than 5% of the 2020 summer and winter collection has been cancelled. Similar to some of the competitors, the cancellations were made in full consultation with our suppliers and only for those orders for which our suppliers did not yet have anything in production and had not incurred any costs themselves (such as the purchase of fabrics). This way, nothing of what was already in production was stopped. We have also fulfilled all our financial obligations and there are no outstanding payments’.

Despite repeated attempts, we received no response from these 5 belgian producers:

Carodel, XML (Expert Manufacturer Leisurewear Zaventem), Van Laere International, Sogesma (Trafic), Jovitex

Back to the full research

This article also appeared at MO* and was supported by COSH! Research and editing remained independent of this support.

Would you like to stay informed about further research?

Subscribe now to our newsletter.