Fashion watchdog pleads as brands hit for factory mistreatment

The survey, carried out by the University of Aberdeen and trade justice charity Transform Trade, is said to be the largest to date, with more than 1,000 Bangladeshi fashion factories taking part, and says most of those selling to the world’s 24 biggest retailers are today the same prices apply as at the beginning of the pandemic, even though raw material costs are rising.

The impact of unfair practices by global apparel retailers on Bangladeshi suppliers during COVID-19The study found that a large number of fashion brands bought from factories facing rising raw material costs between March 2020 and December 2021, with almost one in five struggling to pay Bangladesh’s £2.30 minimum wage. ($2.79) per day.

The survey indicates that the majority (90%) of larger brands purchasing from four or more factories reported unfair purchasing practices, with more than half of suppliers reporting unfair purchasing practices such as cancellations, non-payment, late payment and discounting. requirements with side effects, including forced overtime and harassment.

The study claims that larger brands engage in unfair purchasing practices more often than smaller ones, with every brand purchasing from 15 or more factories reporting that they engage in at least one of these unfair purchasing practices.

Nearly two-thirds of the factories said they receive some financial support from the Bangladeshi government or Bangladeshi banks to stay afloat, and of the brands listed in the report, 12 are described as members of an ethical trading initiative aimed at supporting workers. “rights all over the world.

Professor Islam, who is Professor of Sustainability and Transparency Accounting at the University of Aberdeen Business School and led the project, explained: “Two years into the pandemic, Bangladeshi garment workers were not being paid enough to live. one in five manufacturers struggle to pay the minimum wage, while many fashion brands that use Bangladeshi labor have increased their profits,” adding: “Spiking inflation around the world has probably made it worse.”

The survey also found that after the lockdown, garment factories employed 75% of the workers they had before, suggesting that up to 900,000 workers may have lost their jobs.

Why a fashion watchdog is considered a necessary solution

Fiona Gooch, Senior Policy Adviser at Transform Trade, said: “This research is a wake-up call. When retailers mistreat suppliers by violating previously agreed terms, employees suffer. If the merchant does not pay the agreed amount or is late, the supplier must cut costs in other ways, which is often passed on to its workers, who have the least power in the supply chain. Reports of rehiring for worse pay and conditions, bullying and unpaid overtime are a predictable result. We need a fashion watchdog to regulate UK clothing retailers, just like the existing supermarket watchdog.

Professor Islam exclusively told Just Style that a key recommendation of the study is for the UK and other Western governments to introduce a fashion watchdog.

He added: “At the same time, I emphasize that governments in the Global South should step up and establish independent monitoring bodies (independent of government and industry associations), made up of representatives of NGOs, trade unions and development agencies (such as the ILO). to track unfair practices (some of which are cross-border in nature).

Professor Islam also believes the findings are a wake-up call for consumers who should demand more transparency and traceability of production sites, production processes, workers’ wages and rights, shipments and final payments.

This is not the first time Professor Islam has recommended a fashion watchdog. Following research published in January last year into how garment workers were treated during the pandemic, he said retailers Just Style must be held accountable for how suppliers and staff are treated.

Brands cited in the study include well-known fashion brands and retailers such as Best Seller, H&M, C&A, Inditex-owned Zara, Mango, Next, Asda, Gap, Primark, Tesco, Target and LPP.

Most of the brands and retailers featured in the report did not respond to Just Style’s request for comment before going to press, however Tesco told Just Style it was investigating the claims and an Asda spokesman said: “We have long-standing positive relationships with our suppliers in Bangladesh and are in regular contact to they have ensured that we continue to purchase our goods responsibly according to our standards and policies.”

Meanwhile, Justyna Weryk, sustainability manager at LPP, wanted to make it clear to Just Style that she believes the data published in the survey is “far from the truth” and believes it “paints an unreliable picture of our company”.

She said: “The pandemic has been one of the most difficult times we have ever experienced in our history. It was challenging not only for us, but the consequences of the economic changes it brought about were also very acutely felt by our suppliers and other companies based in developing countries such as Bangladesh. That’s why we took steps to support suppliers after the outbreak of the pandemic.

“We settled our obligations to the factories on time. Since we ourselves were in a difficult situation due to the outbreak of the pandemic in Poland and the subsequent lockdown, we were forced to limit some of our orders. We considered each supplier’s situation on a case-by-case basis to help manufacturers maintain accounting liquidity. In the spring, when the restrictions hit the economy hard, we were in constant contact with suppliers and together we were looking for a solution. We also monitored the payment of wages to factory workers.

She added that as of April 2020, 99% of Bangladeshi sewing factories working with LPP had paid March wages and settled their obligations in the following months when production was suspended, noting: “LPP was one of the first garment companies to be included. on the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) list of companies that honor their commitments to suppliers.

The report claims that the garment industry accounts for 85% of Bangladesh’s export earnings, with more than 12 million Bangladeshis dependent on the sector.

Just Style had not received a response from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA) before going to press.

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