corporate responsibility fair trade human rights

High Street, your clothing workers called…

During the summer, Bangladesh raised the minimum wage for garment workers. It was a long time coming, and not big enough. Workers had asked for 5,000 taka a month, and they got 3,000, but it was a victory nonetheless.

Wages were due to rise from £16 a month to £27 a month and come into effect in November. Many factories appear to have ignored the new law and not paid the increase, sparking a wave of protests as workers demand their legal rights. Clothing and shoe factories in Chittagong Export Processing Zone have been closed this week, and this weekend clashes with police have left three dead and 100 injured.

Bangladesh has some of the world’s lowest wages. Depending on your perspective, that either makes it ‘highly competitive’ or ‘easily exploited’, but either way it has managed to attract considerable business. The country has over 4,000 garment factories, and depends on the for fashion industry for around 80% of its exports.

Many high street brands depend on Bangladesh’s relaxed labour laws and low wages for their profits, including Marks and Spencer, GAP, Primark, Tesco, Levi Strauss and many more. Some of these companies are trying to ensure their workers get a fair wage, others aren’t, and some are serial offenders.

While the Bangladeshi government and the big brands have their roles to play in stopping this kind of exploitation, so do you and I. The complacency of the consumers that buy the final product is what allows brands to carry on. If we demanded better labour standards, the companies would fall over themselves to keep their customers happily spending.

If you buy high street clothes, take the time to look up your favourite brands. If you don’t like what you find, write to them and tell them why.

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