A Primark shopper finds a hand-stitched label reading “forced to work exhausting hours” sewn into the floral sundress. This dress, like many other clothing sold at Primark locations, was made in one of the many factories owned by Primark and other European retail chains in Bangladesh.
Last year in 2013, in Rena Plaza, an eight-story commercial building collapsed killing 1,129 garment workers trapped in the building. This was followed by mass protests, including a large May Day protest. Other protests took place in approximately at the same time in London’s Primark store on Oxford Street. Other companies such as Walmart and H&M also have companies in South Asia and have made exorbitant profits from these sweatshops.
In order to keep the clothing prices low for European and North American consumers, the primary place for production is transferred to areas where wages are low and with little to no benefits, job security and also a complete disregard to health and safety of workers. Prices are kept low for consumers simply because the consumers in places such as Europe and North America are also struggling with low wages and unemployment: directly effecting their purchasing power. The cheap labour in Asia (Bangladesh being the cheapest after Myanmar) has spawned a $20 Billion dollar garment industry (the world’s second largest).
Garment workers in Bangladesh fought back against the corporations and the government. The protest included a mass walkout from 250 garment factories. In large numbers they stormed the streets and made their voice heard which resulted in an important victory which included a 77 percent increase on minimum wages: $68.
This year another woman has also claimed to have found a label that reads “degrading’ sweatshop conditions”. This is finding, only underscores the fact that despite the mass rallies both in Bangladesh and in Europe, there has not been a fundamental change in working hours, benefits or health and safety for the garment workers. Without a doubt the conditions of the sweatshops are as they were in 2013, if not worse.
What makes the actions of the garment workers that bravely and boldly stitched pleas for help in to the clothes, is the way the garment workers are making their voice heard by directly speaking to the consumers on the other side of the world. This is a continuing trend in the current working class movement around the world where workers are protesting against the inhumane profit machinery of capitalism on both ends of production. It also speaks about the now well known and shamed image of corporations and union of workers world wide in the process of production and sales. It is also a turning point in the way that corporations have no where to hide and are now exposed to public scrutiny. Finally it is important in the way of creating the new selective and conscientious consumer: cutting away from the profits of these fat corporations.