Amidst Kondo-inspired clearouts and Instagrammable capsule wardrobes, it can feel like the tide is turning towards a more sustainable approach to fashion. We know that our appetite for fast fashion is damaging the planet, and it’s production methods exploit and abuse the workers it relies on.
However, with our West-centred news cycle, it takes disasters like Rana Plaza (the eight-story Bangladeshi factory building collapsed in 2013 killing 1,134 and injuring thousands more), for news of the workers who make our clothes to hit the front pages. It’s therefore likely you may have missed recent reports that thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers have been striking for the past week in protest of fair wages.
The protests began nearly two weeks ago in in Savar, a district outside the capital Dhaka that’s populated with garment factories, The Guardian reported. The demonstrations started in response to a government announcement confirming a pay rise for factory workers. Workers took to the streets claiming they hadn’t received a pay rise despite the supposed raise in minimum monthly wage from Tk 5,300 (approx £48) to Tk 8,000 (approx £73). According to The Guardian, police attempted to disperse crowds of protestors by firing rubber bullets and using both tear gas and water cannons, and one worker was killed.
Textiles play a huge part in Bangladesh’s developing economy (set to become a middle income country by 2021) with 80% of its export earning coming from clothing sales abroad to major global such retailers. In total, Bangladesh’s 4,500 textile and clothing factories shipped more than $30bn worth of apparel last year, The Guardian stated.
The booming Bangladesh textile industry is staffed primarily by female factory workers and while this has given many Bangladeshi women jobs and increased economic freedom, these protests demonstrate that the government and factory owners are not doing enough to ensure they are paid fairly for their work.
For fast fashion consumers it's not as straightforward as stopping shopping but holding these companies responsible. “As a consumer, it's your responsibility to understand and know where your clothes comes from. While H&M or other fast-fashion retailers seem immutable, it's so desperately important that we hold them accountable, and follow the leadership of garment workers organizing for their rights and better working conditions in Bangladesh and across south and southeast Asia,” Hoda Katebi, a political fashion blogger, explained succinctly in a comment for US ELLE.