The economy of Bangladesh is booming due to massive profits the RMG industry is making in Bangladesh. According to the latest figures from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), the RMG sector contributed USD 30.61 billion, or 83.49 percent, to Bangladesh's total exports of USD 36.66 billion, during the last fiscal year of 2017-18. And during July-November of the current fiscal year 2018-19, the growth stood at 20 percent (The Daily Star, 31 December 2018). The ready-made garments sector has also contributed to fix the unemployment problem. According to a survey titled “Ongoing Upgradation in RMG Enterprise: Preliminary Results from a Survey” conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), there are 3,596 active RMG factories in Bangladesh with 3.5 million workers, of which 60.8% are female and 39.2% are male (Dhaka Tribune, 3 March 2018). Despite this positive development, it is frustrating to note that the booming economy is based on entrenched exploitation and the widespread payment of poor wages.
Oxfam, together with the Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies and the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions in Vietnam, has interviewed more than 470 workers across Bangladesh and Vietnam for this study. All of them were part of Australian clothing supply chains at the time of interview, employed in garment factories that supply at least one iconic Australian clothing brand. This report has recently come out with the title 'Made in Poverty: The true price of fashion'.
The investigation also included more than 130 interviews with factory owners, managers, union leaders and focus groups to present a clear picture of the way the fashion industry works in Australian garment supply chains. The result is the first full picture of the lives of the people who work to bring fashion to Australian shelves, from Bangladesh and Vietnam.
From amongst the interviewed workers, the report found some frustrating evidence. They are paid well below a living wage and they also struggle to feed themselves and their families. In consequence they cannot afford their healthcare needs or education of their children. Workers told stories of having to leave school early or getting their children out of school in order to send them to work in the garment sector to bring in more money. This investigation reveals that the problems created by poverty wages in the garment industry are not isolated incidents. They cannot be fixed by action in just one factory or by addressing the hardships of just one worker. Only a strong system-wide commitment from Australian brands with the power to change their practices will turn this around.
Among the many disturbing results, the research has revealed that nine out of ten workers interviewed in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, forcing them to regularly skip meals and eat inadequately, or go into debt. 72% of workers interviewed in Bangladesh factories supplying to major brands in Australia cannot afford medical treatment when they get sick or injured. 76% of workers interviewed in Bangladesh factories supplying to major brands in Australia have no running water inside their home. In Bangladesh, one in three workers interviewed are separated from their children, with nearly 80% of those cases due to a lack of adequate income.
For the first time, this report looks comprehensively at the lives of the women and men who make clothes bound for the Australian market in Bangladesh.
Compiled by Law Desk.