Bangladesh workers’ leader targets London Fashion Week

Amid the countdown to London Fashion Week, the leader of Bangladeshi garment workers, like those involved with the Rana Plaza disaster, flies into Britain today to demand a living wage for people on poverty pay making clothes for UK retailers.

Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers’ Federation, will join forces with union campaigners battling to win a living wage for employees at British universities and further education colleges.

Amin will address delegates at the TUC’s annual conference on Monday, together with Heather Wakefield, who heads the local government service group of Britain’s largest public service union, Unison.

Today, in advance of his arrival, the NGWF’s partner, the charity War on Want, launches a new report (available here) which cites evidence that a living wage benefits workers, employers and economies.

It points to the world’s only supplier producing clothes for a mainstream brand to pay workers a living wage – the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic.

The living wage at the former sweatshop, one hour from the capital Santo Domingo, has not just tackled poverty, but increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and boosted consumer support.

Amin will use his visit to push UK retailers for a living wage far more than the £25 (3,000 taka) a month numerous Rana Plaza workers earned, like many elsewhere in the country.

The federation’s chief will contrast the dire hardship faced by millions of Bangladeshi garment workers with the multimillion-pound profits of retailers, such as Topshop and Tesco, which both sponsor London Fashion Week.

Tesco and other leading brands – like Primark, Gap, Monsoon Accessorize, Marks & Spencer and Asda – belong to the Ethical Trading Initiative and have signed up to a code of conduct that includes paying a living wage.

Amin said: “The Rana Plaza disaster not only exposed unsafe conditions for workers turning out British stores’ clothes, but the pittance on which they struggle to survive.

It is high time UK retail chains, and other companies sourcing from Bangladesh, matched ethical claims with action to lift their suppliers’ workers out of poverty.”

The report comes amid news that Conservative policy advocates want British prime minister David Cameron to promise a higher minimum wage during his speech at the party’s conference in the coming weeks.

Labour’s shadow Treasury team are pondering whether to pledge that living wage zones will be established if they win power at the next election.

According to War on Want’s report, the professional services company KPMG says that paying a living wage and improving other benefits has contributed to the firm’s success, halving cleaning staff turnover and raising morale.

Dhaka Savar Building Collapse by rijans via Wikimedia Commons

Dhaka Savar Building Collapse by rijans via Wikimedia Commons

Graciela Romero, international programmes director at War on Want, said: “The fight for a living wage is a vital part of any movement for social justice.

It could lead to a fairer distribution of wealth between workers and employers, contributing to poverty reduction and ensuring more of the wealth created within poor countries stays in the local economy, instead of being transferred to the pockets of the rich.”

The report features living wage campaigns among Bangladeshi and Cambodian garment workers, migrant and local employees in Malaysia, besides workers in Indonesia, Africa, including the Western Cape, Latin America, the Caribbean, Scotland and the US city Baltimore.

It says that as labour’s share of national income has declined around the world, there has been a parallel rise in the number of workers who find themselves trapped in poverty despite having a job – the so-called “working poor”.

In the Asia/Pacific region alone, over 600 million working people are still forced to live below the $2 (£1.28p) a day poverty line, many of them women or migrant workers.

In the UK, more than six million people living in poverty are in a working household, meaning that in-work poverty is now more prevalent than out-of-work poverty among people of working age.

For more information (The Living Wage: Winning the fight for social justice) visit the War on Want website.

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