Women’s access to economic sustainability and equality in the workforce is critical to development. Around the world, challenges exist to ensure women can earn an adequate living wage and thrive in proper working conditions. This is particularly true in the textile industry. Following the tragic collapse of a factory in Bangladesh, I wrote several posts on women’s rights, the textile industry and ethical spending. Last weekend, I had an opportunity to participate in a session at Nordiskt Forum related to these issues. Brands, suppliers, global unions, local activists and other representatives spoke passionately about the work being accomplished to ensure women and men working in factories earn a fair wage and have good working conditions.
Nazma Akter, President of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation and General Secretary of the AWAJ Foundation, has been fighting for women’s rights in the textile industry for many years. She began her journey as a factory worker when she was eleven years old. At the age of sixteen, Nazma began fighting for women’s rights. Through the AWAJ Foundation, Nazma and her team work tirelessly to empower women working in the textile industry to know their rights. Women participate in workshops and meetings where they can safely learn about their rights and contribute towards change in their working environments. Nazma spoke passionately about their work to help women understand their legal rights as well as empower them through health, literacy and computer skills training.
We must overcome the challenges. Workers are not educated about their rights. Women are often treated as secondary leaders.
Monika Kemperele and Jen Holdcroft spoke on behalf of IndustriAll, an organization working to increase national and international trade unions. In many parts of Europe, trade unions are organized to help unite industrial workers. IndustriAll works to advocate for collective bargaining which ensures that workers have influence over their wages and security. IndustriAll represents workers in a wide range of sectors. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, IndustriAll launched the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. More than 150 global brands and retailers have signed the declaration to launch a movement ensuring safety for workers in Bangladesh. The project has raised over seventeen million dollars. IndustriAll continues to support workers, and advocates specifically for women to earn fair wages. The organization admits that the fight for women’s rights in the textile industry is often an uphill battle.
We have a long way to go to ensure women’s rights, especially their right to a fair wage. – Jen Holdcroft, Policy Director, IndustriALL
H&M, a European clothing brand, is a strong supporter of the Accord project. H&M works with suppliers in twenty countries around the world, including Bangladesh. Last year, they contributed funding to provide support to families affected by the tragedy in Rana Plaza. Over the past several years, they have made a concerted effort to be conscious about their supply chains and the manufacturing of their textiles. They received a B ranking in terms of sustainability from Rank a Brand and are a better choice than many other clothing brands. In comparison, retail brands such as Gap, Zara, and Asos only received a C ranking. H&M is one of the only clothing retailers who have publicly published their list of suppliers. This means that anyone can research and visit the locations where the clothes are manufactured. H&M continues to endeavor to be conscious of their supply chains and promote sustainability in their work. In 2013, H&M made seven commitments to be a more ethical and sustainable company who supports women and communities around the world.
It is encouraging to know that the fight for women’s rights in the textile industry continues to be at the forefront of companies, activists and organizations agendas. As an activist and consumer, I will continue to do my part both in being a conscious consumer and raising awareness about women like Nazma Akter who works daily to improve the rights of women around the world.