6th July 2010
Arrived in Dhaka last night and after a small vodka + briefing session with Safia, Antony and Miki (photographer) we got to bed at about 1am (excellent way to start a working trip…)
Early start to speak to a representative of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) which has it’s main office close to one of Dhaka’s biggest slums. Because of People Tree’s support to NGWF over the years we were able to talk frankly to the representative and hear an honest account of Bangladeshi garment workers lives.
Much of what he talked about is somewhat covered territory, however, being in a small, hot room made it seem real and not just an isolated incident across the world. He spoke about the minimum wage in Bangladesh as being set at 1662 per month which is approximately USD$24, even at the time when this was set in 2006 it was not enough to live on. The NGWF estimate that families cannot survive on less than 5000 taka per month. We also visited the slums, this is where many of the garment workers live – the rents have doubled in the last two years and now families are often spending over half their income on these small, hot, overcrowded rooms.
When asked by Safia if there was anything that consumers in the west should do, he emphasized that they should not boycott these brands as H&M alone work in over 300 factories in Bangladesh. Millions of Bangladeshi people depend on these brands for their livelihoods, not just the garment workers themselves. Instead he would like us to put pressure on the multinational corporations to make their supply chains as transparent and fair as possible, demanding to know where our clothes are being made and what conditions they are made in.
He does think that Fair Trade is a valid model, but believes it more suited to rural areas and is unrealistic to imagine that it would be possible in the big city with the demands of the mass-market.
Making consumers understand how much their purchases can affect the lives of others is not an easy task, people do not want to know and even if they do – it is just so easy to buy that top from Primark. It would be a different story if everyone was able to experience the slums of Bangladesh I am sure that minds would swiftly be changed. Tourism opportunity????