While the predicament of the ready-made garments (RMG) industry in Bangladesh during the pandemic has been in our national news and our social media radars, #PayUp has been slowly gaining traction over the past few weeks on social media platforms like Instagram. A quick look through the posts will reveal that most of the discussion is surrounding the performative solidarity shown by brands in the wake of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and the lack of action by these brands when it comes to actually making a difference. So how do Bangladeshi RMG workers come into this?
#PayUp first emerged in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 and began as a movement that demanded international apparel brands show accountability towards their supply chains. It was used to put pressure on the brands whose garments were being made in the factories housed in the collapsed building to take note of the conditions in which these workers operate and to compensate those affected by the tragedy fully and fairly. It has since evolved as a part of a greater movement promoting sustainable fashion.
Seven years later, the hashtag has emerged again after it came to light the lack of responsibility many of these brands have shown again towards the actors in their supply chains amidst a pandemic. Many brands have refused to accept completed orders, demanded hefty discounts on completed orders, refused to honour outstanding payments and penalised delays in productions from Bangladeshi RMG factories since March 2020.
This has created a crisis in this industry and puts the livelihoods of millions into risk. The RMG sector is the biggest employer in our country—with a predominantly female workforce of around 4.5 million people—and also draws the biggest export earnings in our economy. The human cost is understandably catastrophic. Many workers have already taken to the streets demanding their wages and festival bonuses on several occasions amidst the Covid-19 outbreak. However, with no resolution underway from many of the biggest buyers of these garments, the entire industry is on the brink of devastation and its workers are not far from destitution and starvation.
When various high street brands began posting to show their solidarity to the BLM protests taking place around the world, activists began pointing out the glaring hypocrisy of some, such as Kendall + Kylie. The highly influential brand had posted pledging to donate in support of BLM and promising to reduce inequality and improve their understanding of racism. However, it was soon revealed, through #PayUp, that they were doing so to just appease the public during a popular movement and not committing to the cause. The refusal to accept accountability and pay their dues ends up hurting the people of colour who work at their supplier factories. This is why #PayUp has become a part of the outcry against racial injustice and a site of resistance against white supremacy.
The question that often arises is: does social media activism actually work? The efforts made under #PayUp have already shown some results, with some brands coming forward to rectify their earlier decisions. However, the fight is far from over and greater participation is required to mount increasing pressure on the brands who are evading their responsibilities. This is no longer a national issue but a part of a greater movement for justice for vulnerable communities.
To participate, look into the resources made available by groups such as Remake and Clean Clothes Campaign, tag celebrities and brands who are yet to pay up, and most importantly, educate yourself and those around you so we can all keep pushing for a better world.
Post and share using #PayUp to continue pressuring those who need to be held accountable.
For a deeper look into the matter, read The Daily Star's in-depth report "Is foul play the new normal?" by Sushmita S Preetha and Zyma Islam.
For more information on the current crisis faced by the Bangladeshi RMG sector, read The Guardian's "'My life became a disaster movie': the Bangladesh garment factory on the brink" and "Surviving on a bag of rice: plight of Bangladeshi garment makers".
Nooha Sabanta Maula is an Anthropology graduate whose anthropologising has made her confused about life. Send her your thoughts to email@example.com