Domestically produced does not always mean ethically produced: garment workers in Los Angeles are facing deliberate obstructions of their rights and safety and unjustified wage theft for their work. As a brand that supports both sustainable and ethical practices, the rampant denial of workers' empowerment and rights in the garment industry in Los Angeles is an issue that our community of designers must acknowledge and actively fight against.
1. The law as it currently stands no longer protects garment workers as manufacturers and retailers found ways over the years to legally bypass fair wage practices. In 1999, Assembly Bill 633 was passed and intended to protect workers against wage theft by garment manufacturers. However, over the years, retailers have found ways around this law by subcontracting and avoiding labeling themselves as "manufacturers." This is a common practice done by major fast fashion labels when they source their labor internationally and avoid responsibility for those factories' infringement of human rights.
2. Many Garment workers in Los Angeles are being paid by the piece, meaning manufacturers are able to pay garment workers far below the county’s minimum wage without being held legally accountable. Therefore, many garment workers cannot afford to support themselves and their families under these wages. Due to the lack of adequate laws in place to protect these workers, wage theft continues without consequences. This system further de-incentivizes workers to take breaks and to work at a slower, safer pace leading them to become pressured to produce as many pieces as possible in a short period of time.
Written by Maria Elena Duranzo (CA State Senator, District 24) and Lorena Gonzalez Flethcer (CA State Assemblymember, District 80), the SB 1399 bill is designed to protect workers against these common infringements of their rights.
From the Garment Worker Act page:
"SB 1399 will strengthen current law to ensure protections of garment worker rights in three ways. It will: 1) expand liability, ensuring that retailers cannot use layers of contracting to avoid liability; 2) prohibit the use of paying garment workers by the “piece,” thereby eliminating a significant obstacle to workers being paid minimum wage and also protecting their health and safety; and 3) explicity authorize the Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) to investigate and cite guarantors for wage theft."
As of August 2020, the bill has passed the CA Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committee. The remaining two steps before the bill's passage are the full Assembly and Governor.