Workers’ rights abuses in the clothing industry
Below we look at a number of abuses, from low pay and harassment to forced labour and union busting.
In many garment-producing countries the national minimum wage, if it exists, is set far lower than what is actually required to cover basic requirements like food and housing. For example, in Bangladesh the minimum wage for garment workers is $94 per month, whereas the living wage is estimated to be $569 per month.
Khalid Mahmood says that in Pakistan, “Women workers are routinely paid less than men for work of equal value or are employed in roles with lower piece rates than male colleagues.”
But the problem isn’t only seen abroad. In recent years, investigations have found illegally low wages in garment factories in the UK, predominantly in Leicester. Whilst most brands have moved their manufacturing elsewhere due to the allegations, campaign group Labour Behind the Label says that fast fashion brand Boohoo remains.
“Industry sources state that it is impossible to produce the units/garments requested by Boohoo for the product price while still paying workers the national minimum wage of £8.72 per hour,” according to the group. “Wages as low as £2-3 per hour are allegedly commonplace in Leicester factories supplying Boohoo and other online retailers.”
These low wages leave garment workers around the world with next to no option to save, meaning they have no safety net in the case of illness, job loss or any other personal crisis.
And new research in 2023 by Transform Trade, accuses brands including Primark, H&M, Next, Lidl, Tesco, Aldi and Zara of paying suppliers in Bangladesh less than the cost of production, making it near impossible for factories to meet national minimum wage standards. The allegations come from a survey of more than 1,000 factories in the country. Most of the companies mentioned denied the allegations.