Not enough is being done to safeguard the health and well-being of garment workers in global supply chains, according to new research conducted by UK academics.
Five years after the Tazreen factory fire, in which 112 workers lost their lives, and the collapse of the Rana Plaza building which killed 1,134, ‘Unmaking the Global Sweatshop: Health and safety of the world’s garment workers’, shows that despite some improvements, fast fashion is still putting the health and well-being of garment workers at risk.
“Improvements have been made since the Tazreen and Rana Plaza disasters,” says Geert De Neve, professor of Anthropology at the University of Sussex. “But these initiatives haven’t gone far enough. Codes of conduct narrowly focus on building safety and physical infrastructure with a bias towards what can be seen and audited. Not only has the poor implementation of these codes allowed building fires and collapses to continue, but they still ignore the ways in which the health and well-being of workers is threatened on a day-to-day basis.”
Dr Rebecca Prentice, senior lecturer in Anthropology at the University, adds: “Long working hours, physical exhaustion, intense work rhythms, harassment, and an absence of representation are all issues that remain ‘invisible’.”
According to Prentice, research conducted at a Bangladeshi knitwear factory resulted in a long list of everyday health threats, from dust and smoke inhalation, to noise, lack of ventilation, musculoskeletal pain, stress, and exposure to lights, electric wires, and chemical adhesives.
Meanwhile, research from the Delhi capital region similarly reported a 10-12 hour working day as “standard” for 67% of workers employed in informal workshops, with 39% of all workers suffering from eye strain and 41% from exhaustion.
“Workers are having to make a trade-off between earning a living and caring for their health,” Prentice says. “The ‘fast fashion’ industry must realise that workers’ health is more than just the absence of injury; people’s well-being encompasses physical, social, and mental dimensions that are threatened by the conditions they are working in.”
De Neve concurs: “The future well-being of garment workers around the world relies on the fast fashion industry realising that it has a responsibility to these people’s health and wellbeing that extends well beyond the structural safety of the buildings they work in.”