In Dhaka and other big production centres, the garment workers have a measure of economic autonomy, often the sole support of their families. They want to keep their jobs. They want us to keep buying the clothes they make. They have never called for a boycott. What they want to change is their poor wages and despicably unsafe working condition. And thus was born The FAST Campaign a series of art projects leading to consumer activism -- a demand for a FAIR living wage; ADULT labour only, SAFE working conditions, and no unpaid over-TIME.
Few media outlets have mentioned the abuses that minorities in Bangladesh have endured since the country won its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Discrimination is particularly brutal against the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, who have suffered horrific human rights violations at the hands of Bangladeshi settlers and the military forces supporting them. Canada is an aid donor to Bangladesh and must take action to end the ongoing human rights violations against religious minorities and indigenous peoples.
According to an Ipsos poll, when shopping for clothes, 76 per cent of Canadians feel stress that they're paying too much for something while just 59 per cent are concerned about child labour. With the sun shining brighter every day, I plunged into my sons' closets last weekend, in search of spring clothes that would still fit them. Sitting there, sipping, I thought of another little boy, one whom I hadn't seen in a while. His name is Jewel.
As Canadian consumers, we have the power to help change the plot for the world's children. It lies in the decisions we make about our purchases. Do we contribute to keeping children trapped and enslaved, or do we make the decisions that help set them free? On the World Day Against Child Labour, we must all consider our roles in the story.
The notion that the Rana Plaza factory collapse came out of the blue and took everyone by surprise is sheer fiction. The companies who sell these clothes have known for a long time that there are serious problems with the working conditions in the factories they use. But talk about addressing those issues is about as cheap as the clothing they sell.
Every year on October 7 workers around the globe recognize the World Day for Decent Work. It reminds us of the current and constant downward pressure placed on workers, as incomes stagnate, as wealth concentrates in the hands of the privileged few and as jobs become more insecure and more precarious.
When an 8-storey building collapsed in Bangladesh in April killing more than 1,100 garment workers, the rescue response was agonizingly slow. Canadians watched their TV screens in disbelief as Bangladeshi friends and relatives struggled to move rubble in search of their loved ones -- work that would have fallen into the hands of capable and well-equipped rescue teams in Canada. So one would hope. Canadians should be aware, however, that in an era when all of us are increasingly prone to both natural and man-made disasters, the federal government has discontinued funding to Canada's primary disaster relief agency.
Canadians are not sitting back any more and taking bad corporate behaviour. We may have arrived at a tipping point where increasingly Canadians who have been shoved, are pushing back. The RBC "fire Canadians" story broke on a weekend. By the start of the week, politicians had heard from constituents across Canada. Over in Bangladesh, a garment factory collapsed in Rana Plaza, killing more than 700. And just because a videographer caught a glimpse of a Joe Fresh clothing label and some editor put that on Canadian television, suddenly Canada's best-known retail leader, Galen G. Weston, was all over the media.
The price of a piece of clothing is not at all indicative of the working conditions of its manufacturer. On top of that, implying (or outright saying) that there is something morally wrong with paying ten dollars for a t-shirt is incredibly classist. The truth is that when brand names charge higher prices for their items, that extra cash usually goes to two places: into the pockets of CEOs and other higher-ups, and into the company's advertising budget.
Last weekend, renewed demonstrations calling for better pay and working conditions broke out and are continuing. Because the garment industry makes up the core of the Bangladeshi economy, its leaders and business class cannot afford to ignore the internal calls for change. In fact, whether they listen depends on the demand for clothes made in Bangladesh being sustained. A boycott would work against this outcome.
People take clothing for granted but producing a simple garment is incredibly complex. Consider what goes into a simple cotton shirt. Cheap clothing is cheap partially because it consists of low-grade material. Bangladeshi garment workers earn 18 cents an hour for work in substandard facilities, working for Western garment companies with eyes trained on profits. What can we do?