As the death toll in the Rana Plaza textile factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh two weeks ago tops 900, the TUC has today (10 May)) published figures which suggest that the reason costs are cut and wages are low in the Bangladesh textile industry has nothing to do with cash-strapped consumers demanding cheap clothes.
In the days after the disaster, some commentators have claimed that the blame for the poor conditions and poverty pay rates could be laid solely at the door of Western consumers on the hunt for ever cheaper bargains on the high street.
But using figures supplied by textile workers’ unions in Bangladesh, the TUC has calculated that doubling the wages of a Dhaka textile worker would add just 2p to the cost of a t-shirt bought in any store on the UK high street (where ‘budget’ fashion tops tend to range from £2 to £10).
In Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector – which supplies high-street fashion stores across the UK and Europe – wages are as low as £27 a month, and working conditions so poor that factory fires are commonplace. In fact another fire took place just this week in which eight people died.
Unions in Bangladesh say that workers are usually paid just 12p for the six t-shirts they are expected to make every hour and as they work around 200 hours a month, this works out at roughly 2p for every t-shirt.
Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It isn’t UK consumers – trying to make their wages stretch further as their living standards take are hit – who are to blame for life and labour being cheap in Bangladesh.
“Wages paid out to the thousands of women who work in the clothing factories are just a tiny fraction of the end price we pay at the till.
“It’s the multinational companies – the brands, retailers and manufacturers who are all well-known names on our high streets – who bear the responsibility. They are the ones who must change their behaviour and encourage their overseas suppliers to pay higher wages and improve working conditions, not UK consumers.”
The TUC is asking consumers touched by the Dhaka tragedy to use social media to help share a graphic of this message with friends and colleagues, to build pressure on clothing brands and the Bangladeshi government over pay and safety.
The e-action at http://action.goingtowork.org.uk/page/content/bangladesh also allows consumers to show support for global textile workers’ union IndustriALL in its campaign to demand Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Rajuback carry out the recommendations of the UN’s International Labour Organisation on fire and factory safety.
The TUC is also working with other campaigning organisations and progressive employers in the Ethical Trading Initiative to ensure that workers’ rights are respected in Bangladesh.