Fierce

Fashion Nova’s Factories Employ Undocumented Immigrants To Make Their Clothes For Illegally Low Wages

Thanks to high street and low-cost brands like Fashion Nova, the days of $200 jeans are over. The coveted e-comm site can turn around a whole collection in as little as “two weeks” thanks to their manufacturers based in Los Angeles —just a short drive away from the company’s HQ. But as it turns out, the federal Labor Department found that many Fashion Nova garments are stitched together by a work force in the United States that is paid illegally low wages.

We’re living in the times of ‘fast fashion’.

In the era of Instagram, when whatever you see on your screen you can instantly purchase with a few taps of your finger, online retailers like Fashion Nova, have perfected the ‘fast fashion’ model.

In order to ‘mass sell’, retailers have to mass produce.

Online retailers lean on celebrities, influencers and countless avid selfie-takers to post about the brand on social media and incite everyone around them to buy. This model is built to satisfy an online client-base, so the retailers mass produce cheap clothes that look expensive to keep up with demand.

We buy clothes, wear them ‘for the Gram’ and never think of them again.

“They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh,” Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, said in an interview last year. And to enable that habit, Fashion Nova produces super cheap options constantly —but this is where it starts getting ugly.

If you think of it, in order to get ridiculously cheap clothes, the manufacturing process has to be cheap too —so the workers are getting paid illegally low wages.

Los Angeles is packed with factories that produce clothing and pay workers —off the books— as little as possible. Many of the people who work at these places are undocumented, and don’t see the possibility to challenge their bosses.

There are basically ‘sweatshops’ in L.A.

“It has all the advantages of a sweatshop system,” said David Weil, who led the United States Labor Department’s wage and hour division from 2014 to 2017. Every year, the department investigates these issues at sewing factories in Los Angeles. Showing up unannounced to check payroll data, interview employees and question the owners —but it’s easy to keep things hidden.

The factories that make Fashion Nova’s clothes, owe millions to workers.

Research conducted between 2016 and this year, showed that much of Fashion Nova’s clothing production was being made in factories that owed wages to hundreds of workers —$3.8 million to be exact.  The factories are hired by middlemen, to produce garments for fashion brands, and they pay their seamstresses and sewers as little as $2.77 an hour —according to The New York Times.

Factories producing clothes for Fashion Nova have been caught committing these violations repeatedly.

After federal officials found repeated violations at factories making Fashion Nova clothes, they met with company representatives. “We have already had a highly productive and positive meeting with the Department of Labor in which we discussed our ongoing commitment to ensuring that all workers involved with the Fashion Nova brand are appropriately compensated for the work they do,” Erica Meierhans, Fashion Nova’s general counsel, said in a statement to The New York Times. “Any suggestion that Fashion Nova is responsible for underpaying anyone working on our brand is categorically false.”

Fashion Nova’s signature bodycon dresses and curvy jeans are often made by people who work in ramshackle buildings in less than acceptable conditions.

The New York Times just published an investigation and thorough interview with employees of these warehouse factories, like Mercedes Cortes. Mrs. Cortes, sewed Fashion Nova clothes for months at Coco Love, a factory near Fashion Nova’s headquarter offices in Vernon, California. “There were cockroaches. There were rats,” she said. “The conditions weren’t good,” she said to the Times.

She worked everyday of the week—but instead of being paid for her time, she was paid depending on how quickly she worked.

Mercedes’ pay varied depending on how quickly she moved her fingers. Ms. Cortes was paid for each piece of a shirt, she could sew together (approximately 4 cents to sew on each sleeve, 5 cents per side seams, and 8 cents for the seam on a neckline), she was making $270 dollars a week —which is equivalent to $4.66 per hour. Note that the minimum wage in California, as of January 2019, is $12 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees.

In 2016, Ms. Cortes left Coco Love and later reached a settlement with the company for $5,000 in back wages.

She continued to work in factories sewing Fashion Nova clothes, noticing the $12 price tags on the tops she had stitched together for cents. “The clothes are very expensive for what they pay us,” Ms. Cortes said.

As consumers, we like to believe that this is what happens in developing countries like Bangladesh or Vietnam where labor isn’t regulated—but it’s true and happening in our very own country.

These factories are still producing clothes for major American retailers. Under federal law, brands cannot be penalized for wage theft in factories if they can credibly claim that they did not know their clothes were made by workers paid illegally low wages. The Labor Department has collected millions in back wages and penalties from Los Angeles garment businesses in recent years, but has not fined a retailer.

Fashion Nova’s labels were the ones most frequently found by federal investigators.

This year, as federal authorities looked into garment factories that pay ridiculously low wages, Fashion Nova’s labels were the ones that kept showing up. In September, three officials of the department met with Fashion Nova’s lawyers to inform them that after 4 years, the brand’s clothes had been found in 50 investigations of factories paying illegally low wages —or failing to pay overtime altogether.

The company took “immediate action” and updated its brand’s agreement with vendors.

Now, if Fashion Nova finds out that a factory has been charged with violating laws “governing the wages and hours of its employees, child labor, forced labor or unsafe working conditions,” the brand will put the middleman who hired that factory on a six-month “probation,” it said in a statement. While Fashion Nova has taken steps to address the Labor Department’s findings, the brand noted that it “is not responsible for how these vendors handle their payrolls.”

In 2013, Mr Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, opened an Instagram account and began adding photos of his products.

Gradually, Fashion Nova amassed millions of followers, mentions and endorsements from celebrities and influencers. Cardi B, dropped her first collection with the brand on Instagram, through a video. “I wanted to do something that is like, ‘Wow, what is that? Is that Chanel? Is that YSL? Is that Gucci?’ No,” she said, adding an expletive, “it’s Fashion Nova.”

There were more searches for Fashion Nova last year than for Versace or Gucci, according to Google’s year in search data.

It has 17 million followers on Instagram, and at any given moment there are enough people browsing clothes on its website to fill a basketball arena, Mr. Saghian said.

To keep all these people interested, Fashion Nova produces a filthy amount of styles at a ridiculously fast pace.

More than a thousand new styles are made every week, thanks in part to an army of local suppliers that can respond instantly to the brand’s requests. “If there was a design concept that came to mind Sunday night, on a Monday afternoon I would have a sample,” Mr. Sarghian said.

Any investigation will find problems in these factories. But finding problems is only one important and positive step.

One of the most critical steps we can take is to open these industries up to greater public (and market) scrutiny and accountability. We need to pull back the veil of secrecy these factories have hidden behind for so many years. And we need to create systems where workers and communities can speak in their own voices through their own independent organizations, so that we can hear directly from workers and communities impacted by our consumption.

As consumers, we can help to put pressure on our favorite brands to make sure they are actively supporting initiatives that support workers and their conditions.

There Is Chaos At The Mexico-Guatemala Border As The Next Migrant Caravan Tries To Enter Mexico And AMLO Pushes Back

Things That Matter

There Is Chaos At The Mexico-Guatemala Border As The Next Migrant Caravan Tries To Enter Mexico And AMLO Pushes Back

Jose Torres / Getty

Last week news broke that another migrant caravan was forming in Honduras, in an attempt to safely cross Guatemala and Mexico on the way to the United States. Immediately, the reports were met with a mix of panic and indignity among Central American leaders who vowed to stop the caravan before reaching the US-Mexican border.

And it looks like that plan has been put into motion. Although Guatemala allowed many migrants through its territory, upon reaching the border with Mexico, many migrants were turned away, or worse.

A caravan of nearly 3,000 people has been met with force as they’ve tried to cross into Mexico from Guatemala.

Credit: Jose Torres / Getty

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration giving them more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants. Even though these exact same countries are ill-equipped to handle the influx of migrants – let alone fight back against their country’s own poverty, violence, and corruption that force many migrants to flee in the first place.

Mexican government officials ordered them to block entry into the country. 

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute issued a statement saying it would detain any migrants without legal status, and deport them if they couldn’t legalize their status. 

Video footage showed scattered groups of migrants throwing rocks at a few members of the National Guard militarized police who were on the banks of the river attempting to thwart illegal crossings, while hundreds of others ran past into Mexico.

Hopes were raised on Friday after Mexican President AMLO announced that there were 4,000 jobs along the southern border available to migrants.

The day after AMLO’s statement regarding possible job opportunities, more than 1,000 migrants attempted to cross into Mexico. According to the country’s National Institute of Migration (INM), each migrant was interviewed and told about opportunities with two government development programs. which will be implemented along the southern border and in both El Salvador and Honduras.

Meanwhile, as migrants waited to be processed for entry into Mexico, a loudspeakers warned migrants against applying for asylum in the US. However, many migrants are doubtful when it comes to Mexico’s offer of work.

“I don’t believe that. It is a lie,” one migrant told Al Jazeera. “They are just trying to find a means trap us and to debilitate the caravan.”

The violence at the Mexico-Guatemala border has left children separated from their families as crowds were sent fleeing from pepper spray.

Credit: Jeff Abbott / Flickr

As Mexican security forces launched tear gas and pepper spray into a crowd of migrants attempting to enter the country – hundreds were forced to flee. The ensuing chaos left children lost without their parents and mothers and fathers desperately searching for their children.

A Reuters witness spoke to at least two mothers said their children went missing amid the chaos, as the migrants on Mexican soil scattered in an attempt to avoid being detained by Mexican officials.

“We didn’t come to stay here. We just want to cross to the other side,” said Ingrid, 18, a Honduran migrant. “I don’t want to go back to my country because there is nothing there, just hunger.”

Many have harsh words for Mexico’s President AMLO – calling him a puppet and a coward.

Although most agree that every country has the right to enforce its own immigration laws, many are upset with AMLO for the way his administration has cracked down on Central American migrants. Many see the crackdown as little more than bowing to pressure from Trump – turning him into a puppet of the US.

So what should AMLO do when dealing with unauthorized migrants and pressure from a US President?

First, violence and attacks on migrants simply crossing territory should never be on the table. Second, AMLO’s administration should let the caravan reach the US-border and let the asylum process play out as it was meant to do under international law. Just because Trump wants AMLO to join him in breaking international norms, doesn’t mean he should.

But many doubt that will ever happen. Neither of these presidents, Trump nor AMLO, will change course to support legal asylum claims.

So what’s next? Will Mexico relent and agree to pay for Trump’s border wall? Don’t dismiss the idea, not when the Mexican president has so far carried out Trump’s every whim.

Hundreds Of Migrants Are Attempting To Form Another Caravan To The United States But Here’s Why Mexico Won’t Let Them Pass

Things That Matter

Hundreds Of Migrants Are Attempting To Form Another Caravan To The United States But Here’s Why Mexico Won’t Let Them Pass

@Delmar_Martinez / Twitter

Migrants often group together to form large groups for reasons of safety, child care, and increased presence during confrontations with police, gangs, and immigration agents. It’s these reasons that helped spur the large caravans of migrants that traveled from Central Mexico to the United States in 2018.

In 2018, the migrant caravans were a major talking point for conservative politicians who used them to instill fear in voters. However, few migrants actually made it to the US-Mexico border and those that did were turned away to await their asylum claims in Mexico. Now, thanks to new immigration agreements and unilateral pressure by the US, most migrants realize that their journey across Central American and Mexico won’t likely result in them successfully making it to the United States.

Hundreds of mostly Honduran migrants grouped together to try and form a caravan to help aide passage to the United States.

Credit: @Delmer_Martinez / Twitter

So far, according to reports, about 1,300 Honduran migrants have successfully crossed the border into Guatemala.

Guatemalan police officers were accompanied at the checkpoint by four agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Agent Alex Suárez told the AFP that ICE was there to train Guatemalan authorities in immigration control.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Homeland Security personnel — ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection — are in Guatemala “providing advisory and capacity building support” to deal with irregular migration.

According to Guatemala’s new president, Mexico plans to contain the caravan before it’s able to make it to the US.

Credit: EqualityNow / Instagram

Mexico’s government is bracing for the arrival of hundreds of Central Americans on its southern border in coming days, an event likely to be closely monitored by the U.S. government, which has made curbing illegal immigration a priority.

Guatemala’s president said he had met with Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who had told him that Mexico would not allow the caravan to advance into its territory.

“The Mexican government advised us that it is not going to let them pass … that it is going to use everything in its hands to keep them from passing,” Giammattei said. 

“We will warn those in the caravan that they are probably going to be able to arrive to the border (with Mexico), but from there on they are going to collide with a wall that they will not be able to penetrate and we believe many of them are going to give up.” 

Later, Mexico Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, said Mexico would welcome those seeking asylum or protection and offer opportunities for those who wanted to enter legally and seek permission to work or study.

Giammattei said travel agreements between Central American nations required Guatemala to grant the migrants passage.

Credit: ZaraConZ / Instagram

In his first full day in office, Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, said the Hondurans would be allowed to enter Guatemala, which they must cross to reach Mexico and the United States.

“We cannot prevent people who have identification” from entering, Giammattei said. “We are going to ask for their papers from the parents of guardians in the caravan, and if they don’t have them they will be returned to Honduras. We have to protect the rights of children.”

Arriving in Guatemala chiefly via crossings on its northern border with Honduras, around 1,350 migrants had been registered entering legally by late morning, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Migration Institute.

The US has put Mexico and Central American nations under pressure to accept a series of migration agreements that aim to shift the burden of dealing with asylum-seekers on to them, and away from the United States.

Credit: Department of Homeland Security

Most attempts at forming caravans in 2019 were broken up by police and the national guard in Mexico, which has come under increased U.S. pressure to prevent migrants from arriving at the U.S. border.

The prospects for any kind of caravan like the one in 2018, which involved thousands of people, appear remote. Many of the migrants from the 2018 caravan applied for asylum, something that is now difficult or impossible.

The U.S. has used a carrot-and-stick approach in bilateral agreements struck since July with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to deny people an opportunity to apply for asylum in the U.S. They are instead to be sent to Central America with an opportunity to ask for protection there.

“The truth is, it is going to be impossible for them to reach the United States,” said human rights activist Itsmania Platero. “The Mexican police have a large contingent and they are going to catch all the migrants without documents and they will be detained and returned to their home countries.”