We enjoy the fruits of labour organising every day. Whether it’s the eight-hour workday, the NHS, or the weekend itself many of our advancements in workers rights have come about as the result of hard-fought battles. Workers have had to push for their rights for as long as there have been people to employ them. International Workers Day is a day to appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears poured into carving out the rights we now take for granted. This isn’t the case all over the world and workers rights still have a long way to come globally.
We’ve all known for a long time that working conditions in the fashion industry leave a lot to be desired. This International Workers Day today we want to take a chance to discuss the dire conditions that plague the industry. A recent Fashion Revolution project involved carrying out weekly meetings with 540 fashion workers in India, Bangladesh and Cambodia for a year to better understand the working conditions and the life they facilitate.
The results were disheartening, with 60% reporting gender-based discrimination, 15% being threatened and even 5% being hit. Over 40% of workers had seen a fire in their workplace, highlighting the fast and loose health and safety conditions endemic in garment factories. This doesn't begin to talk about the working hours or the targets workers must meet. During peak season workers can be going until 2 or 3 am to meet the quantities required. The sheer output of our biggest fashion brands demands extreme workloads for the people behind the clothes.
Only a small percentage of garment factory workers are unionised and often union-busting tactics are undertaken by management. Sometimes management can set up a union to keep buyers happy while offering nothing a typical union would offer. These ‘yellow unions’ exist to prevent workers from creating their own, effective, organisation.
Without the means of collective bargaining or strike action fighting for one's rights in the workplace becomes a lot harder. Recently it was the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster that took the lives of over a thousand fashion workers. The catastrophe should have been a turning point for the fashion industry, the moment they realised that what they’re doing wasn’t sustainable, couldn’t last. The Fashion Revolution report shows that this isn’t the case, with another disaster being one unlucky fire away.
Fashion is one of the biggest industries on the planet, everybody wears clothes every day. We believe that it can be done differently, without tearing down forests and relying on the mistreatment of workers to meet quotas. Sustainable clothing can enrich both the world and the workers who so skillfully make them. Instead of huge factories and weekly releases, we need to take a slower pace and prioritise local craftspeople, artisans and workers. The only thing we have to lose is our fast fashion chains.