Revealing Clothes: The Major Brands Exploiting Bangladeshi Garment Workers

Large fashion brands sourcing clothes from Bangladesh for the UK market are reportedly paying below the cost of production, according to a major new survey of 1,000 Bangladeshi manufacturers just published.

 Research funded by the University of Aberdeen through an award from the Scottish Funding Council under the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) has revealed that large numbers of high street fashion brands were buying from factories facing rising costs for raw materials and nearly one in five struggling to pay the Bangladeshi minimum wage of £2.30 per day.

The project leader Muhammad Azizul Islam, Professor in Sustainability Accounting and Transparency at the University of Aberdeen Business School explained:

“Two years on from the start of the pandemic, Bangladeshi garment workers were not being paid enough to live on, with one in five manufacturers struggling to pay minimum wage while many fashion brands which use Bangladeshi labour increased their profits.

“Inflation rates soaring around the world are likely to have exacerbated this even further.”

The challenges suppliers reported they had faced between March 2020 and December 2021 related to the practices of buyers, by size of factory

In total 90% of larger high street brands buying from four or more factories were reported as engaging in unfair purchasing practices in the survey carried out by the University of Aberdeen and trade justice charity Transform Trade.

H&M, Gap, Next, Primark and Zara are among brands named as treating suppliers unfairly. Of the brands listed in the report, 12 are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative which aims to promote workers’ rights around the world.

More than 50% of suppliers reported experiencing unfair purchasing practices, including cancellations, failure to pay, delays in payment and discount demands, with knock-on effects including forced overtime and harassment. Larger brands buying from many factories were engaging in unfair purchasing practices more frequently than smaller brands, according to suppliers. Every brand purchasing from 15 or more factories was reported to be engaging in at least one of these practices.

Bangladesh is the second largest garments exporter in the world, providing millions of garments to the UK market.

There have also been huge job losses – according to the research, possibly over 900,000.

Professor Pamela Abbott, director of the Centre for Global Development at the University of Aberdeen and co-investigator of the project said:

“Multi-million fashion brands are extracting their wealth from some of the world’s poorest countries in a form of 21st century neo-colonialism.

“Because of the unequal power dynamic between the suppliers and buyers, none of the suppliers who reported illegal contract breaches in the survey took legal action to recoup their losses.”

Click on this link to access the full report: IMPACT OF GLOBAL CLOTHING RETAILERS’ UNFAIR ON BANGLADESHI SUPPLIERS DURING COVID-1 which includes recommendations on what Governments can do to prevent the exploitation of workers by these global brands.

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