Is workers’ welfare only suppliers’ responsibility?

by Apparel Resources

29-May-2019  |  5 mins read

Garment worker
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A recent report underlines how buyers’ pressure tactics are promoting workers’ abuse 

I made this item you’re going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it… this was reportedly the message left in notes by workers from a local garment factory that supplied Zara and other international brands in Istanbul, in 2017.

Read by end-users who were upset to no end, reactions flew thick and fast forcing brands to resort to remedial measures. These were the workers of a manufacturing unit that went bankrupt a year earlier and failed to pay the workers.

This case, which hit the headlines, is not an aberration. There are many such cases that go unreported, maintain industry insiders pointing towards the question if workers’ welfare is only the vendors’ responsibility.

Bangladesh, the world’s second biggest garment exporter, apparently is a victim of such apathy where despite spending substantially towards workplace remediation and safety measures conforming to the buyers’ norms, the industry is not getting any support from them when it comes to pricing.

“In price negotiations, we have been unable to take collective initiatives. No matter what the buyers say, we should be firm and strong. There is no country that has the massive capacity as Bangladesh,” underlined the new BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Huq speaking to Apparel Resources in an interview.

As per some experts, if Bangladesh has increased workers’ wages by 263 per cent over the last 10 years, prices have fallen by almost 6.63 per cent and 7.33 per cent from USA and Europe, respectively.

The pressure created by the buyers is not, however, restricted only to price points. Its manifestations have impacted every aspect of a worker’s livelihood, which has been highlighted by a recent report that shows how pressure from global retailers leads to abuses in factories.

This report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) maintained that despite public commitments from global apparel brands for fair and safe labour standards, retailers are incentivising their suppliers to take cost-cutting measures that result in perilous and abusive work environments.

Titled Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly: How Apparel Brand Purchasing Practices Drive Labor Abuses, to mark the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, Aruna Kashyap, Senior Counsel at HRW and the report’s author while speaking to media, stated, “We have brands and retailers saying to factories that there should be a certain standard of working conditions in the factories, but then they do not accurately cost for it…”

As per the report of the HRW, which reportedly spoke with suppliers across Asia, it  found that companies were not adjusting pricing for local wage increases; they were also shortening the due dates for shipments and delaying payments to suppliers — all of which worsens labour abuses in the factories.

This has once again brought the focus back on brands/retailers’ responsibility towards the workers and how they can support the vendors in this regard by stopping the pressure tactics through fair pricing.

As per media report that appeared a year ago, one of the tags, taken from a polo shirt of a US retailer, showed a retail price of US $ 42 (Taka 3,475) even though the item cost only around US $ 3.30 (Taka 273) from its manufacturer in Bangladesh.

“It is a common practice for buyers to charge double or triple of what they pay for an item to the manufacturer,” said KI Hossain, President of Bangladesh Garment Buying House Association, while interacting with the media then.

“Overcapacity is a reason behind low manufacturing prices. It makes manufacturers desperate for orders, so they quote lower prices to get the orders and remain operative,” maintained Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director at the Dhaka-based think tank, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

No matter whatever is the reason, there has to be certain dignity towards those who are responsible for dressing us up, and if the brands/retailers could support them by compromising a little on their profit margins, it could definitely go miles towards building a truly sustainable apparel industry.

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