Did You Know 1,500 Garment Workers Are On Hunger Strike In Bangladesh?

It might just make you think again about ethical clothing


by Zing Tsjeng |
Published on

Last week, more than 1,500 garment workers in Bangladesh went on hunger strike. Staging sit-ins in their employers’ offices, the protesters – many of them impoverished rural women – fought back water cannons and tear gas. A hundred workers were already sick from hunger, but that didn’t stop Bangladeshi police from using batons and rubber bullets to try to break the strike.


Horrified yet? Astounded? Yep, you should be. By all accounts, this was one of the biggest garment strikes of the year – but you’re lucky if you heard about it at all. A year on from the tragic Rana Factory collapse in Bangladesh, us Brits are sometimes none the wiser about the politics behind our cut-price high street clothes.

READ MORE: Why Clothes To Die For Is The Most Important TV You'll Watch This Week

Some of the biggest Western retailers make their clothes in Bangladesh, where the garment industry is estimated to be worth some $22 billion – nearly 80% of the country’s exports. The target of the hunger strikers’ ire is the Tuba Group, one of the most high-profile garment manufacturers in the country. Its client list reads like a who’s who of cheap Western goods: Walmart, C&A and Carrefour.

But the Tuba Group is also one of the most controversial garment producers in Bangladesh. The Tazreen Fashion factory, which burnt down in 2012 and killed 117 people, was Tuba-owned. And the company definitely haven’t learned from their mistakes. Among the demands listed by the Tuba strikers includes the immediate payment of wages (including overtime) and compensation for the victims of the Tazreen fire.

READ MORE: Woman Saws Off Her Own Arm To Escape Collapsed Factory and More Harrowing Tales From BBC Doc Clothes To Die For

The movement’s coordinator, Moshrefa Mishu, is deadly serious about the strike. ‘The payment of dues is a must,’ she told bdnews24.com. ‘Otherwise, we will continue our movement till death.’

Until DEATH? OK, rewind. I knew I wanted to buy a cheap £10 going-out top, but not if people are literally starving to get paid for it.

I’ve written before that our generation might be the most ethically-minded yetwhen it comes to our clothes – but sometimes, it takes events like the Tuba Group strike to hammer home the importance of ethical fashion. Put it this way: it’s difficult to watch this video of the hunger strikers, many of whom are too weak to even move, without wanting to help in some way.

But outside of taking to the barricades with these brave, kick-arse women, it sometimes feels like there’s not much you can do. Thankfully, that’s not the case – especially not in a world where brands care especially about their social media PR.

As Peter McAllister of the Ethical Trading Initiative puts it in Vogue: ‘If you care about a brand, let them know you're watching them. Applaud them for progress and let them know you want to know about the people in their factories.’ So tweet them. Leave comments on their Facebook page.

READ MORE: Good News On The Anniversary Of Rana Plaza's Collapse. We Care More About Ethical Fashion That Our Parents

The next thing is to actually get smart about the conditions in which your clothes are made. The UK-run Bangladesh Accord is a legally-binding agreement that commits businesses to inspect the safety standards of workplaces – and most critically, guarantees that workers will be paid when repairs are carried out. Conveniently, they even have a list of all retailers who have signed up to the accord. You can check it out here.


But obviously, you can only trust what a company says about itself so far. The biggest thing you can do? Change your thinking. As Fashion Revolution Day founder Orsola de Castro told us: 'Consumers are alienated from the people who make their clothes, and it’s not just a fast fashion problem, it’s a fashion problem.'

READ MORE: If Any Good Has Come Out OF Bangladesh's Sweatshop Disaster It's Fashion Revolution Day

So don't just look at your clothes as mysterious garments that magically appeared, fully-formed, on a clothes rack without ever touching another human being’s hands. Ask yourself if you would be happy getting paid less than a dollar for every £10 going-out top you sewed. Ask yourself if you’d be happy knowing that somebody is on a hunger strike just to get that dollar. And if the answer’s no, you know what to do.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

There's Everything Wrong With This Indian Fashion Shoot Glamourising The Gang Rape Of Nirbhaya

Even The Fashion World Is At War Over The Israeli - Palestinian Conflict

Watch The Documentary That Explains Why Everyone Is Ghana Is Wearing Your Old Clothes

Follow Zing on Twitter @misszing

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us