The fast fashion industry that we are so reliant upon is a result of economic manipulation and a legacy of colonialism. For many years, women in Bangladesh have been working in unsafe and dangerous conditions with little to no pay. They have sacrificed their lives simply for our summer trends and fast fashion. Many have not gotten their salaries for two months. Approximately 4.1 million Bangladeshi garment workers — 80 percent of whom are women — have not been paid, and are being exploited by Western brands such as Fashion Nova, Urban Outfitters, H&M, Target, Primark, Gap, Kohls, and Free People. This is not only a financial crisis, but a humanitarian crisis. These brands have capitalized off of underpaid and underprotected garment workers long enough.
Al Jazeera reported that workers are on the threshold of starvation due to brands withholding payments of already shipped and manufactured products. Factory owners struggle to pay their laborers since cash flow has ceased due to unexpected cancellations. Some owners said that they have reached out to these brands, but have not received any kind of response from them. Bangladeshi garment workers work 10 – 12 hour shifts daily for the mere payment of $96 USD per month, to produce products which are marked up to $50-$200 in their retail stores. Their extremely low income makes it impossible to accumulate savings; not being paid for over two months has had detrimental effects on their livelihoods pushing them to the brink of starvation and homelessness.
According to The Guardian, Azmin Nahar, a 26-year-old garment worker and mother of two in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is living on borrowed rice. She hasn’t had the wages to pay for food or rent for more than two months. “They told us that the foreign buyers are cancelling all our orders,” she says. “That’s why there’s no new work. We haven’t had our salaries for two months now. Our house rent is due. We are buying all our groceries on credit but they won’t give us any more food until we pay our bill. So our landlord managed to get a sack of rice for us and we’re surviving on that,” says Nahar.
These fashion brands belong to multi-billionaires who are still making profit and capitalizing on the cheap labor of underprivileged workers in Bangladesh. It is time for them to #PAYUP.
This is not only a financial crisis, but a humanitarian crisis.
The Instagram hashtag #PayUp is being used to pressure those brands to pay for whatever they ordered from Bangladeshi factories. So far, sixteen brands have agreed to pay for back orders. H&M, Adidas, and Nike are among brands that have agreed to pay for back orders totaling some $7.5 billion.
As factories reopen, they’re fulfilling those orders. However, brands like Primark, Kohls, and the Kendall + Kylie fashion line still refuse to pay. Kohl’s is yet to pay $50 million in cancelled orders in Bangladesh, in addition to the $100 million they are withholding from their other global suppliers. Primark is refusing to pay over $300 million to suppliers only in Bangladesh, according to BGMEA. On April 20, Primark announced a $460 million fund to pay suppliers worldwide, without mentioning what percentage of their dues they agreed to pay and has not made any of those payments yet.
The Kendall + Kylie clothing line is owned by Global Brands Group, which has also decided not to pay workers in Bangladesh. The Independent reported that the Global Brands Group was cancelling orders and firing workers in Bangladesh and Los Angeles without paying them. The Los Angeles factory firing has so far impacted up to 50,000 women who are also ineligible for government assistance due to their immigration status. Enraged by this, social media users began to call Kylie out. Kylie’s fans commented on her Instagram posts demanding that she pay the factory workers from her own pocket, if necessary. Even though Kylie Jenner was recently stripped of her billionaire title, she is still worth a staggering $900 million and can more than afford to pay workers for the work that they have completed. One fan on Instagram wrote: “How about not exploiting foreign workers and honoring your contracts during a GLOBAL EPIDEMIC?!”
Having the ability to pay and choosing not to is not only unethical, but also remorseless. We cannot let these brands use this pandemic as an excuse to exploit Bangladeshi workers any further, especially when they have the profits to make the payments to the factories. This issue concerns all of us because no matter where you live, if you have shopped in high street stores, you definitely have at least one item of clothing in your wardrobe that says “Made in Bangladesh.” It is inhumane and selfish to turn our backs on the very people that make our clothes.
Here is how you can help:
- Sign this petition on Change.org
- Donate to “Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity” campaign on GoFundMe.com
- Social media activism is powerful. So, make your voice heard. Comment on these brands asking them to #payup Collectively we are influential and strong. This is evident, as 16 brands have decided to payup! Let’s continue holding these brands accountable!
Long term, we need to look more closely into our shopping habits and seek out sustainable options. Not only that, but in Islam, we are not supposed to be indulgent. Islam forbids extravagance. The Quran and Prophetic tradition warns against consumerism and buying things we don’t actually need. Rather, we are suggested to only buy what we need.
The Holy Qur’an says,
“…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:31)
Thus, Islam does not stop us from spending money on people’s genuine needs. It only restricts individuals from wasteful expenses that result in neglecting the rights of the public at large. Excessive spending on things such as fashion apparel is an example of extravagance. As Muslim consumers, we must follow Islamic guidelines while we are consuming.
Feature image by Abreshmi Anika Chowdhury. She is from Bangladesh, and has always had a great interest towards ensuring there’s more Brown representation in art. Her work is based on Bangladeshi culture to showcase how beautiful her country and its culture is.
Maliya Naz is a Kashmiri/Pakistani American poet and human rights advocate. When she is not volunteering or translating Urdu ghazals, you can find her giving talks about all things Islam and spirituality.