Garment Workers asks: "Does the labor behind the label matter to you?"

I stumbled upon a profile of a woman in Bangladesh who has worked in and around the garment industry for decades. Today she works to give the workers a voice, help secure loans for and educate them.

When I was in Bangladesh I met some former-garment workers turned organizers. It’s right up there on the list of thankless jobs. In many cases, including this woman’s, the organizers have been blacklisted and couldn’t return to the industry if they wanted to.

How much to push before they price their industry out of work? But there is plenty of room for improvement in Bangladesh; wages there are some of the lowest in the world.

I also spent some time with the owners of the factories who are being squeezed pretty tight.  One factory owner said that he makes half as much now as he did five years ago.  There are more than a few players between the factory floor and the shopping rack. There’s the factory, the middle men, the middle men for the middle men, the buying houses, the brand, the store, and you and me.  As I say in the book: “Exploitation can occur on any level except one. The worker’s aren’t in a position to exploit anyone.”

The profile of this woman doesn’t really show all sides, but her story is powerful.

(I found this story via Ethical Style)

On entering the workforce at 12:

Akter had begun working when she was only 12. Her father, a construction contractor, had taken ill and was unable to work. “I was the eldest of four sisters and a brother. Schooling was the last thing on my mother’s mind. She wanted food to feed the family.” So Akter was forced to give up her education and instead accompany her mother to a garment factory.

On linking consumers and producers:

From consumers, Akter expects responsible shopping. According to her, consumers can play a huge role in transforming sweatshops into fair work places. She shares three pointers: “Before parting with your dollar demand for transparency from companies, provide information to the sellers about labour standards and make it clear to the shopkeeper that workers’ rights matter to you. That the labour behind the label matters to you.”

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