PayUp: A Long Overdue Movement

PayUp: A Long Overdue Movement

PayUp: A Long Overdue Movement
Sejuti Mansur

In the last few weeks, the ‘PayUp’ campaign has been making sweeping progress across all social media platforms. The news came to light by Remake Our World about global brands refusing to pay Bangladeshi garment workers for months after products could not be shipped due to the pandemic. Never mind the fact many products had already been created, garment workers have been left to starve. There has been no commitment on payments, as goods are being kept in the warehouse, and the imminent threat of factories closing is near. The ‘PayUp’ campaign is pushing pressure to treat garment workers equally, and not to place garment workers’ salaries contingent on shipments.

I wanted to write a think piece on this because, while I believe in the #PayUp movement with every heartbeat, the context must be given as to why the garment industry needed reform a long time ago.

If you are someone who wholeheartedly believes that fast fashion is the devil and all garment industries must be shut down – this is not for you. In the past, I would be uncomfortable partaking in fast fashion discussion because I would witness middle-class women turning their nose up at working-class women. After all, they could not afford “ethically sourced” clothing and claim it was in the name of equality. I am not shaming you if you cannot pay for £300 worth of trousers and must buy a £5 top from Primark. I simply ask you to be conscious about how the people, who painstakingly put every seam together, are treated.

The garment industry was revolutionary in Bangladesh. There have been countless studies on how the garment industry is the greatest strength in Bangladeshi’s economy. It allowed rural women to build their economic autonomy and own their independence. Bangladesh is classic patriarchy and upholds a classist system. If you scoffed at that last sentence, you are either a) absolute kidding yourself b) actively benefiting for the current system. As a classist patriarchal system, Bangladesh places women in rural communities at the bottom of the hierarchy.

These women make the highest number of victims in domestic violence, lack of educational literacy and zero-to-one financial independence. This is not a post to shame these women or paint them as docile victims – how can they be? The system is rigged against them. Bangladesh has excelled in gender parity in primary & secondary education. Still, gender parity in higher education is harder to achieve. On top of this, many women struggle to find employment following graduation. Therefore, the garment industry opens opportunities to earn an income.

Studies have shown that income-earning Bangladeshi women had greater confidence over their choices. Marriages are delayed in favour of building a self-sufficient lifestyle, before choosing a husband of their own accord. Child mortality rates have reduced because there is no need for child marriages. Domestic violence in households has lessened because the spouses are on equal footing. I could go on for a long time. All studies for these statements shall be listed below.

Therefore, the garment industry has been beneficial for women in employment. However, western employers’ negligence and classist patriarchal attitudes have fostered a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment and abuse are rife in the workplace. As these women work under gruelling conditions in age-old warehouses, women are harassed by managers and other male co-workers. Global brands have known about these instances for a long time, but have done nothing to tackle these issues because in their eyes – these garment workers are collateral damage. The Bangladeshi legal system is weak in implementing measures against sexual harassment. Therefore, any woman who is a victim has two options: a) report the crime and risk death threats or b) live in silence. Many women union leaders who have stepped up to protect vulnerable women have made the courageous choice to withstand genuine death threats. Others have been forced to flee because their lives and their families’ lives have been placed in danger.
All this happens as the world watches on.
So, it did not surprise me to hear that brands were refusing to pay garment workers.

I did, however, reach the boiling point of absolute fury.
I am sick of garment workers being treated as collateral damage. I am sick of western people patting themselves on their backs for their white saviour-eque history. Still, when it comes to real action – we hear silence.