Garment Worker Conditions
Revelations of unjust and dangerous treatment of garments workers in the global fashion industry continue to surface in the mainstream media. When the story broke about non-paying brands leaving factories in Bangladesh at crisis point, a series of initiatives were launched including Remake’s ‘Payup’ and Red Carpet Green Dress’s ‘Global Design Contest 2020’ to raise awareness of the impact on garment workers, and provide them with aid. It is difficult, however, to determine how these initiatives will drive lasting change for garment workers, who continue to live hand to mouth despite decades of living-wage debate and aid initiatives. Is aid and ‘raising awareness’ a long term solution, or a band-aid driven in some instances by a ‘white savior’ complex? We may feel good about ‘liking’ such campaigns on Instagram and sharing popular hashtags to show solidarity or concern, but does this result in any material difference to garment workers? How does their situation change due to this raised awareness? What really needs to change so that workers receive a living wage and job security, and why hasn’t this happened already?
Evidence of just how tragic the situation has become for garment workers in Bangladesh was revealed recently in a shocking article in the Dhaka Tribune. The article revealed that newly married garment workers, Keya Akter (18) and Sharif Hosain (19), were forced by a private hospital to sell their newborn baby, to pay hospital bills. Sharif Hosain explained to me during a telephone interview that Central Hospital Gazipur refused to release their baby, who was born by c-section (a procedure they were advised was necessary, but with little evidence to back this up) until the bills were paid in full. Sharif said that following threats of legal action and prosecution against his wife’s entire family for non-payment, Keya’s mother contacted a childless couple known to the family, and arranged the sale of their newborn baby—an incomprehensible situation for those living with ‘free access for all’ to public healthcare in countries like the UK. The Dhaka Tribune reported that when police were alerted, the baby was returned to Keya and Sharif, and the money repaid to the childless couple by a police commissioner.