International Women’s Day has become a go-to platitude and marketing strategy for corporations hoping to reassure their customer base that their company is investing in women’s rights.

Fashion retailers are front and centre with this approach at every level, as demonstrated by GAP’s recent quarterly financial report. An accompanying statement weaved inspirational language into the announcement of Gap’s sportswear brand Athleta’s CEO Mary Beth Laughton’s departure: “[We] thank Mary Beth for her leadership and commitment to igniting the limitless potential of women and girls.”

Because of this noise, it’s easy to forget the origin of International Women’s Day as we know it is linked to striking US textile workers in the early 1900s. The fashion industry supply chain and women’s rights are intricately connected.

Marketing strategies aside, it’s concerning to still see issues of structural gender inequality within fashion sourcing as the industry arguably makes eye-watering profits at the expense of its female workers.

A recent example was the announcement that Bangladesh, a key apparel sourcing country, beat its target for garment export growth. However last week, a new study by the Ethical Trading Initiative claimed there is a significant decline in the number of women in Bangladesh’s ready-made-garment industry. The reasons were attributed to poor working conditions, including harassment, violence, long working hours, and low salaries

This was echoed in a case filed last week against Nike, which alleges that since March 2020, garment workers in the company’s supply chain have experienced labour abuses that include gender discrimination. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance said that NIKE’s gender pay gap also increased.

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These examples demonstrate that company profit is being prioritised over workers’ rights, and arguably female garment workers are being hit hardest. It is also essential that the fight for gender equality is intersectional, taking into account race as well as gender. Additionally, this fight doesn’t have to come at the cost of focusing on other broader industry issues such as sustainability. Rather, what needs to be recognised is that these structural issues are interconnected.

While such mounting issues of gender inequality can seem insurmountable, there is still positive change.

Bangladesh garment factory, 4A Yarn Dyeing Ltd, for example, which Just Style visited in November last year, has an on-site medical centre for its employees and their families and a children’s day care centre.

Plus, for International Women’s Day, Just Style highlighted three women who are accomplishing real change in the fashion sourcing industry.

There’s a long road ahead, but gender equality in fashion sourcing can be achieved through transparency throughout the entire supply chain and compassionate working conditions.

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