Human Rights Watch calls for end to pricing pressure impacting textile workers’ conditions

In a 66-page report, the Human Rights Watch organisation has made an extremely ambivalent assessment of the working conditions of textile workers worldwide. Six years after the Rana Plaza disaster, the finger is still pointed at fashion labels for their persistence in pushing costs down, which their suppliers translate into a negative impact on wages and working conditions.


The report is chiefly devoted to analysing the impact that the fashion industry's pressure on prices has on textile workers’ labour conditions and wages - Shutterstock

Human Rights Watch (HRW) drew up the report after interviewing textile workers from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Burma and Pakistan, and enquiring about their day-to-day working experience. It also talked with apparel and garment suppliers from South and South-East Asia, which described the delicate position they find themselves in with regards to their clients, notably on the issue of prices. The result is a bitter report entitled ‘Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly’, available in English and other languages.

“Brands often struggle to monitor effectively the working conditions in garment-making factories across their supply chain, which is often very articulated,” wrote HRW, according to whose report price pressure is the breeding ground for unbridled sub-contracting practices, which often leads sub-contractors themselves to resort to other sub-contractors without disclosing it.

“Many [apparel brands] compound the problem by refusing to map and identify the workshops they source their products from, and this lack of transparency makes it more difficult for the organisations which monitor the industry to detect abuses which the brands themselves, despite their efforts, have failed to identify. Some fashion retailers resort to agents to select the workshops where their products are made, without insisting to be informed about where the workshops are, what working conditions prevail in them and what their pricing policies are,” stated the report.

The report has given HRW the opportunity to formulate a set of recommendations directed to the fashion industry, public authorities and the International Labour Organisation with its ‘Better Work Program’. Transparency is the keyword for these recommendations, which notably call for fashion brands to introduce binding internal policies. The ‘Transparency Pledge’ regulation, the ACT (Action, Collaboration and Transformation) agreement, the ‘Better Buying’ survey and the work of the Fair Wear foundation are all cited as benchmarks in the report. HRW deplored the fact that many apparel brands seem to be trying to circumvent these regulations by introducing their own, less binding, provisions.

“Consumers should not allow brands to adopt certain policies in name alone, nor to be associated with initiatives that have virtuous objectives, unless [brands] are able to prove they are transparent about what they achieve,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior legal adviser to the Women’s Rights department at HRW, who called attention to the often highly biased and self-serving advertisements made by brands regarding the policies they adopt.

Translated by Nicola Mira

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