Garment sector is a shocking snapshot of a broken economic model

19 February 2019 - 11:30am

The report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability, exposes the shocking truth about the garment industry with 90% of the workers in the global supply chain having no worker protection. It comes as no surprise that garment workers, overwhelmingly women and young girls are being paid as little as 11p an hour in Bangladesh, and £3.50 an hour in the UK. With little or no labour enforcement and a deregulated economy where big business has turned back the clock on workers rights all around the world, including the acceptance by 2/3 of big brands that modern slavery is likely to be happening somewhere in their supply chains simply becomes the way of doing business.

This is a sector that explicitly drives a race to the bottom, threatening to move from country to country in order to ensure weak regulations, tax holidays and exceptions from employment rights. It is an industry built on exploitation, the exploitation of people and the trashing of the planet. Fashion brands set shorter and shorter turn round times to meet production targets that results in workers being forced to work longer and longer hours to meet a model of production that is simply unsustainable.

Photo: rijans CC 2.0

High street brands now this and are shirking their responsibilities to protect their profit margins. But fixing the problem needs more than penny taxes. In January alone up to 11,000 garment workers have been sacked in Bangladesh because they demanded decent pay. Whilst the garment workers employers federation backed by the Bangladesh govt is planning to trash the Bangladesh accord - brought in after the Rana Plaza disaster which killed 1,134 people. They argue the safety checks make it difficult to compete with factories in other parts of the world. And here in the UK, the creation of a low wage economy, zero hour contracts and no labour enforcement condemns many to wages well below the minimum wage.

To end this exploitation we need more than empty social responsibility statements, big brands need to take responsibility for the whole of their supply chain, and commit to paying a living wage for all the workers and decent working conditions throughout the supply chain. That can only be achieved by binding legislation at the global level to make multi nationals responsible for the environmental and social impacts of their business. Shamefully the UK and other developed country governments oppose such moves, preferring to back big business rather than people or our planet.

With the planet facing both a climate crisis and a crisis of inequality, the garment sector is a shocking snapshot of a broken economic model, an unsustainable model that requires the exploitation of natural resources on an infinite level on a finite planet whilst the poorest communities across the world are left paying the price for the huge environmental and climate injustices. Until we fix the neo-liberal economic model that sustains itself on the exploitation of people forcing 70% of the worlds population to live in poverty whilst the super rich amass more and more of global wealth, this story of exploitation will continue and cannot be fixed by penny taxes.

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