Fast Fashion: The Work Environment Of Low Wage Fast Fashion Workers In Bangladesh
‘It hurts us to be paid so little. I have to do this and they sell one piece of clothing for more than I get paid in a month,’ she said. ‘We cannot eat nutritious food. We don’t have a good life, we live in pain for the rest of our lives and die in pain.” – Sakamma, a 42-year-old mother-of-two working for Gap supplier Texport. Many people around the world are not aware of the detrimental effects on low wage workers and their ways of living as a result of choosing to buy clothing from fast-fashion companies. People all across the globe are overconsuming clothing garments, and it embarrassing the number of clothes that we think is necessary. In fact, the average American throws away about 81 tons of clothing each year (Gilmore). As a result of the overconsumption of clothing worldwide, more jobs need to be filled in fast fashion factories. The way in which these workers are treated is plainly despicable. Many leading fast fashion distributors and factories are located in Bangladesh, making this country well known for their fast fashion factories. There are a variety of factors that make the working environment in garment industry factories unbearable, specifically in factories located in Bangladesh. Three of these determinants are extremely low wages, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of worker benefits. The work environment of low-wage fast fashion workers in Bangladesh can change for the better, regardless of being in a third world country.
One major aspect of garment factories in Bangladesh that makes the working conditions unbearable are the hours that individuals are expected to work. The majority of the population of fast fashion workers in Bangladesh, on average, work for 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The reasoning behind why workers are forced to work the number of hours they do is because of the wages they are earning.
“We work from 8 am till noon, then have our lunch break. After lunch, we work from 1 to 5 pm. We do overtime every day, from 5.30 pm. During the peak season, we work until 2 or 3 am. Although exhausted, we have no choice. We cannot refuse overtime: our basic wage is too low. If we want to rest, our employer forces us to keep working.” – Phan, a 22-year-old machinist in a Bangladeshi garment factory (Bryher).
Fast fashion workers can earn as low as one US cent per hour, not providing that individual enough money to support themselves or their family, forcing them to work longer days. Garment industry workers are extremely underpaid, despite the fact that this industry would not exist without factory workers, and the fact that workers are not receiving a fair share of the income is undoubtedly shameful. According to the PRI (Public Radio International), in 2017, fast fashion factory workers earned a monthly salary of $197.00 (Lu). Compared to other countries and their average monthly salaries, Bangladesh’s average is significantly lower. For example, the average monthly income in the United States of America is $3,714.00 (Lu). In fact, the typical income per week in the USA is six times larger than the monthly salary in Bangladeshi factory workers. Consumer Prices Including Rent in Bangladesh are 65.34% lower than in the United States (Muller). Even though living costs in Bangladesh are much lower than in the USA, the majority of Bangladeshis are not being paid enough to survive and cover all living costs.
On the other hand, low-wage workers are fortunate that they are being provided with the opportunity to work more hours, enabling them to earn more money for themselves. If laws in Bangladesh were stricter about maximum work hours, then most low wage workers would not be able to support themselves financially. According to an article written by the Adam Smith Institute, nine out of ten countries, “working ten-hour days in the apparel industry lifts employees above (and often far above) the $2 per day threshold.” And “in half of the countries, it results in earning more than three times the national average” (Smith). Furthermore, many people coming from poverty consider working in factories a dream with better physical working conditions and better pay. A possible solution would be to give a fair share of profits to the garment sweatshop workers. Low wage workers are the basis of the fashion industry as well as many other industries, and they should earn what they deserve.
Additionally, the physical working environments in factories located in Bangladesh are extremely hazardous. The structural stability of these factories is not up to standards stated and enforced by the government. Since the year 1990, over 2,000 workers have died and several thousand more have been wounded in more than 50 major factory fires in Bangladesh alone. One specific tragedy is the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse. More than 1,100 people, mostly female garment workers, were crushed to death in the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse (Stratford). Another event that questions really just how safe fast fashion factories is the 2012 Dhaka fire. This major fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh originated from the Tazreen fashion factory, killing 117 people and injuring over 200 others (Ahmed). This disaster is the deadliest factory fire in all of Bangladesh, taking the number of deaths and injuries into account. The fire started as a result of an electrical short circuit spark, igniting the building and its contents into flames. These are just two of the many other disasters that have occurred as a result of the unsafe working conditions in Bangladeshi fast fashion factories. These events are not only absolutely devastating for family members and friends of the deceased, but are tragic occurrences and are happening more often than it should.
Although the workplaces might not be the safest, the workers in factories are still being provided with a job. Garment industry factories are a workplace, and those who are unable to find other jobs are able to work in factories. These fast fashion factories are providing work for people who are not qualified to obtain other jobs. As well, these buildings are considered by many a nice break from working outside in the excruciating heat in the fields. “I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot” (Kristof). A solution to this issue is to have safety standards being enforced and required to meet a certain standard before enabling a factory to open and mass produce products. As well, garment industry factories should receive habitual checks on the workplace by professionals to make sure it is up to code to ensure the safety of workers.
A prominent issue in Bangladesh garment industry factories is the lack of worker benefits. Despite the factory workers being a crucial part of fast fashion, those individuals are treated horrendously and are not given any benefits. Women in specific are being taken advantage of and labor laws within many different factories are being abused. Because women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers, some employers force them to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits (Bernhardt et al). These violations do not stop at just a lack of health benefits. Another type of violation that ensues is paid related violations. According to one survey, more than 2/3 of US workers experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week (International Labor Organization). Assuming a full-time, full-year work schedule, workers lose an average of $2,634 annually due to violations (International Labor Organization). Provided the fact that factory workers make up over one half of the entire garment industry, it is despicable that these individuals are being treated in such a way.
Contrarily, with fewer worker benefits more of the product can be manufactured, accumulating more profit. With more items being produced, workers are receiving more profit for themselves. In the long run, having worker benefits may not be crucial for the production of goods in the fashion industry. One of the most important things that can be done to find a solution to this issue is to establish stricter laws respecting worker benefits. By enforcing the laws regarding working conditions in Bangladesh, the workers can and will be treated with the human decency that they deserve.
As of this moment, the fast fashion industry is one of the largest industries in the world, but like all major manufacturing corporations, there are improvements to be made. The work environment of low wage fast fashion workers in Bangladesh can change for the better, regardless of being in a third world country. The issues that are embedded in this industry must be changed and solved to be able to take steps into a better way of living. These issues include unreasonable working hours, lack of worker and labor benefits, as well as physical working conditions. Something that can be done to aid in the betterment of these individuals is to simply make others aware of this recurring issue. Around the world, many people do not know about what really goes into the making of our clothes. Clothes and the fashion industry play such a prominent part in our way of life that humanity as a whole must be conscious of the true costs of the items that are taken for granted every day.
- Ahmed, Farid. “At Least 117 Killed in Fire at Bangladeshi Clothing Factory.”CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Nov. 2012, edition.cnn.com/2012/11/25/world/asia/bangladesh-factory-fire/index.html.
- Bernhardt, Annette, Ruth Milkman, Nik Theodore et al. ‘Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities.’ National employment law Project, 2009. Web Accessed February 19, 2014
- Bryher, Anna. “Working Hours.” Labour Behind the Label, 16 Nov. 2017, labourbehindthelabel.org/working-hours/.
- Gilmore, Nicholas, et al. “Ready-to-Waste: America’s Clothing Crisis | The Saturday EveningPost.” The Saturday Evening Post, 16 Jan.2018, www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/01/ready-waste-americas-clothing-crisis/.
- International Labor Organization. ‘Global Estimates on Child Labour.’ International LabourConference, 2013. Web Accessed March 2, 2014.
- Kristof, Nicholas. “Where Sweatshops Are a Dream.” The New York Times, The New YorkTimes, 15 Jan. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/opinion/15kristof.html?mtrref=undefined&assetType=opinion&module=inline.
- Stratford, Charles. “Bangladesh Factories Still Unsafe Five Years after Collapse.” GCC News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 24 Apr. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/bangladesh-factories-unsafe-years-1-100-killed-collapse-180424130818671.html.