While fashion month rages on in the world's wealthiest cities, the dark underbelly of the garment industry is showing its ugly face. Apparel workers in Bangladesh have been striking since Saturday, demanding higher pay ($104/month as opposed to the current $38/month), and forcing least 400 of Bangladesh's 5,000 clothing factories to close.
CNN reports that so far, the violence has taken place primarily on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, when workers fought with police and set fire to vehicles and factories. Police have also turned to tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Bangladesh's garment workers receive the lowest wages in Asia after Myanmar, while the country's $20 billion industry has been supplying U.S.- and European-based retailers such as Walmart, Gap, H&M, and Zara. In addition to low wages, Bangladesh has drawn international attention for its unsafe working conditions. In April 2013, an eight-story factory building collapsed, killing over 1,130 people; in November 2013, an apparel factory caught fire leaving 112 dead.
Negotiations took place last night between Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, factory owners, and labor leaders, according to Bloomberg, but no conclusion has been reached yet.
Fashion can be a wonderful thing — an art form, really — but it's incredibly important to remember that not all sweaters are created equal, and that our demand for cheap jeans often has awful consequences. Let's stay far away from fast fashion until the Bangladeshi workers receive adequate compensation and the strike reaches a peaceful conclusion.