How Can Consumers Help Garment Workers Gain Better Workers Rights?
Written by Carmen Bellot
Nine years on from the Rana Plaza factory collapse, it seems like little has changed for garment workers and what rights they have. The tragic event was a catalyst for much needed industry reform, which at the time, was seeming to gain traction. But during the pandemic, a light was shone on the unfair practices and unethical pay garment workers suffer. Factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam were forced to close, and workers without an income faced destitution and starvation, while on home soil, factories in Leicester were forced to stay open during the height of the Covid-19 cases and sick workers were made to work.
This year, Pakistan, which has nearly 2.2million garment workers and counts the textile industry as the second largest employment sector, suffered incomprehensible flooding. It’s been reported that 45% of cotton crops were destroyed, and as Pakistan is one of the top five cotton-growing countries in the world, it’s going to take time for the country to economically recover from the loss of its cotton exports. As well as the 33 million displaced Pakistanis who are navigating monumental changes to their lives, the garment workers within that statistic will also be fearing for their job security. Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labor Education Foundation, explains to WWD the impact. “Yarn will become more expensive. The garment factories will face more difficulty. The effect of that will be directly imposed on workers. Job safety is not [secured] here, although the labor laws talk about ‘secure jobs’ for workers. The workers are going to lose jobs if the employers are facing these kinds of problems, having to import cotton and not having enough orders.”
With so many issues in the world, focus is often drawn away from the plight of garment workers – giving all the more reason to help them. Below, find out what you can do to help garment workers all over the world.
Sign different petitions
One of the easiest things that anyone can do in a couple of second, is sign up to a few petitions that are trying to create structural reform. Fashion Watchdog needs signatures to prove to the UK government that there is a need for a custodian to oversee businesses and their suppliers. For the EU, Good Clothes, Fair Pair is a campaign that’s demanding living wage legislation across the garment, textile and footwear industries. “Millions of people work in textile, clothing and footwear production around the world. The vast majority are not paid enough to fulfil their basic needs,” says Ruth MacGilp from Fashion Revolution. “To tackle this, we need one million signatures from EU citizens to push for legislation that requires companies to conduct living wage due diligence in their supply chains.” And to ensure change globally, sign Rana Plaza Never Again, which put pressure on brands who haven’t signed the International Accord; an act that ensures safe working conditions for factory workers in Bangladesh and abroad. The programme has made over 1600 factories safer for two million workers.
Question a brand’s corporate responsibility
A large obstacle in obtaining better rights for garment workers is that brand’s aren’t being transparent enough to show consumers who their suppliers are, and therefore, how those suppliers treat their workers. “Our latest research found that 50% of major fashion brands still disclose no information about their supply chains,” says Ruth. “This level of secrecy surrounding the people that make our clothes is unacceptable, and as consumers, we have the power to demand better.” She goes on to explain how we can get brand’s to open up. “The Fashion Transparency Index is a great place to start if you want to hold brands accountable to their claims of ethical labour conditions or sustainable practices. You can use the findings of the report to ask brands that aren’t being transparent, by taking to social media and using our hashtags #WhoMadeMyClothes? #WhoMadeMyFabric? and #WhatsInMyClothes?”
While this might not be viable for everyone, donating to programmes directly involved is a quick way of creating change. Ruth says; “You can support worker organisations such as Awaj Foundation who represent garment workers in Bangladesh, or provide direct aid to workers impacted by the floods in Pakistan through Remake. You can also donate to Fashion Revolution to support our work in 88+ countries around the world, including grassroots fashion activism in production countries.”
Do more than just shopping sustainably
Many think that boycotting the brands that use unethical labour is the best way to support. While it certainly is worth doing, removing your attention from these companies will only support their viewpoint that no one cares about whether they’re transparent about their supply chain, which ultimately affects garment workers. “Changing the way we buy, wear, care for and dispose of our clothes can have a positive impact on workers, the environment and our own wellbeing,” says Ruth. “But we are not just consumers, we are global citizens. That means that beyond our spending power, we can make a huge difference by using our voice to call for change at an industry, policy and cultural level.” Don’t let your spending habits be the only way that you’re helping, because sadly that’s not enough.