Abuse of garment workers continues unabated - GulfToday

Abuse of garment workers continues unabated


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Frankie Leach, The Independent

It’s no secret that garment workers in India and Bangladesh face some of the worst working conditions on the planet, but when you combine already horrific conditions with a pandemic – it becomes a crisis.

In a report by Global Labor Justice, it was noted that “Across Asia, women garment workers make up the vast majority of garment workers. In Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, women workers represent between 80 and 95 per cent of the garment workforce. In India, women account for between 60-75 per cent of the garment workforce.”

It is in this same report that an unidentified female garment worker claimed to have been beaten by a male supervisor for not meeting her production target. The report notes that at the bottom of supply chains of brands like H&M, they found low-skill, short term, low-wage jobs, making the women who work in these factories vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment. In ordinary times, the working conditions of factories like these are already unbearable for low paid garment workers but since the global spread of COVID-19, things have become much, much worse. Earlier this month in India, Gokaldas Exports, Karnataka’s oldest garments manufacturer, which supplies clothing to GAP, H&M, Reebok and Adidas among others, closed their doors without warning, leaving 1300 garment workers suddenly unemployed. According to trade union officials in Bangalore, “they were not given any mandatory one-month notice ahead of the shutdown”.

The officials claim that fashion companies had cancelled their orders with the factory, leading to factory owners completely closing down production at the unit. In other parts of Asia, brands are pushing for factories to re-open without providing adequate health and safety support in light of COVID-19 regulations. Earlier this month, Soy Sros, a garment worker in Cambodia was imprisoned after simply writing a Facebook message about dismissals at her factory. Many of the workers that have been laid off report that they are starving and on the brink of losing their homes. For garment workers, the choice is stark; lose your job or go back to work and risk your life.

For most companies, sustainability is supposedly a key objective of brands in 2020. Consumers are becoming more aware of how their clothes are made and are moving towards more sustainable alternatives. However, for a lot of people, the idea of sustainability brings about ideas about organic cotton and recycled plastic, not a total top-down overhaul of a global supply chain. But for companies who can so easily greenwash their sustainability targets, attention must be drawn to the horrendous and unsustainable conditions that power their garment production.

Greenwashing is rampant in the fashion industry. Recently, global brand H&M topped the Fashion Revolution “Transparency Index”, quickly claiming this “win” by announcing to their customers that they were Fashion Revolution’s most transparent brand of 2020. This in itself was criticised, as H&M had actually only managed to reach just under 75 per cent of the desired targets set out by the industry sustainability watchdog. Using sustainable materials such as Circulose on a T-shirt that has the word “feminist” emblazoned across the chest seems slightly redundant when it was made by a poorly paid garment female worker in Bangladesh, who may well have just been unceremoniously fired.

For most, feminism is an act of international political solidarity, not a fashion statement. And for those who do love fashion, it’s time to wake up to the fact that the industry operates on a model of exploitation that has always valued profit above human lives. Because production is outsourced for most big fashion brands, the disconnect between those who work in corporate headquarters and the workers in Asia who make the clothes is huge. Not only that, but it is a deliberate act of ignorance. For big brands, never having to directly deal with the production elements of your supply chains allows you to feign disbelief that such horrendous practices are happening in the factories that produce your clothes.

During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more apparent that in the UK, many of us live paycheck to paycheck. As workers, we have much more in common with poorly paid factory employees such as these than we would first presume.

Companies have a responsibility to their garment workers to recognise them as a formal part of their supply chains. They should offer them the same rights and protections that they offer their in-house staff. For British consumers, it is crucial we wake up to the atrocities being committed across the globe in the name of our favourite fast-fashion brands.

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