Inflammation and stories on Workplace Conditions

Fast Fashion in BangladeshMerriam Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” To many people, this phrase means trendy clothing for affordable prices, but to the garment workers and citizens of Bangladesh, fast fashion means unlivable wages and unsafe working conditions. Bangladesh is the second-largest producer in the garment industry after China and is home to more than 8,000 garment factories. The clothing produced makes up 83% of the country’s total exports. With more than four million Bangladeshi citizens working in these factories, the stability of the nation depends on the industry, which is controlled by the Global West.

The Fast Fashion Industry

Fast fashion is controlled by demand. The industry needs to pump out clothing quickly so stores have the clothes in stock before the trend fades. American and European demand for Bangladesh to produce is constantly increasing, which creates lower wages, more precarious working conditions and detrimental environmental consequences.

Bangladeshi garment workers make an estimated $25 to $75 a month. This is an impossible wage to live on, especially in large Bangladeshi cities such as Dhaka, where most of the garment factories are located. Nazma Akter, a seamstress in Bangladesh who began working in factories at 11 years old, stated, “We are cheap labor — that is why we are scared; we need money, we need to survive.” With an unlivable wage comes an unlivable life.

This violation of human rights comes with serious economic effects. With such a large percentage of the population living on so little, there are few citizens who are able to invest in Bangladesh, spend money to boost the economy and help lift the nation out of poverty. This low wage, which is only getting lower, is keeping Bangladesh impoverished and fast fashion plays a large role.

Unsafe Working Conditions

Fast fashion’s demand for cheap, fast labor creates low-quality working conditions, which can lead to horrific disasters in garment factories. In 2005, a garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, which killed 64 people and injured more than 100 others. In 2010, a Bangladeshi factory fire killed 26 and injured more than 100. Another fire in 2012 killed 112 workers and injured more than 150. However, the most tragic garment factory disaster was the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which housed five garment factories that sold to countries in North America and Europe. In the collapse, 1,138 people were killed and 2,600 people were injured. The incident revealed the horrible reality of the dangers posed to underpaid Bangladeshi garment workers.

Outside of these large-scale disasters, it is estimated that there are 1.4 million workplace injuries in garment factories every year. Western corporations often manage their factories through a series of subcontractors, creating little to no presence of the actual company in the factory. This allows brands to blame any liability on the subcontractors and removes the obligation to improve working conditions.

Environmental Consequences

The cheap prices of fast fashion cause severe environmental consequences in Bangladesh. Textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year and consumes a lot of water. Furthermore, in order to produce clothing quickly and inexpensively, the garment factories use toxic dyes and chemicals. These chemicals are then released into nearby rivers, polluting the water supply. The World Bank estimates that around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from textile dyes. Chemicals released into the water supply increase disease among Bangladeshi citizens.

Effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh especially hard. In March 2020, when shutdowns began across the U.S. and Europe, a large retail fallout followed. Many large clothing brands such as Zara, H&M and Gap canceled their orders. In March 2020 alone, 864,17 million pieces of clothing from Bangladeshi factories that cost $2.81 billion were canceled after they had already been produced. This left the workers unpaid, unemployed and unsupported.

The petition #PayUp started trending worldwide, exposing the clothing brands that canceled their orders of Bangladeshi garments without compensating factories and workers. However, many large brands still have not paid. In response to the crisis, the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, announced a bailout of $590 million to be used solely for the salaries and allowances of factory workers.

Industry Reform

The garment industry is deeply ingrained in Bangladesh. If the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic taught any lesson, it is that the solution is not as simple as boycotting. Removing fast fashion would be removing almost the entirety of the Bangladeshi economy. Instead, the solution is reform. The solution is to raise awareness of the poor working conditions and put pressure on the large fashion corporations to create more sustainable clothing, humane working conditions and a livable wage. By holding companies accountable, making informed consumer decisions and advocating for workers’ rights, there is hope in ending the negative consequences of fast fashion in Bangladesh.

Georgia Bynum
Photo: Flickr

Addressing the Gender Wage Gap In BelgiumEach year, more and more women are retiring in a state of poverty in comparison to their male counterparts. In fact, on a global scale, women are only making $0.77 for each $1.00 that a man earns doing the same work. Despite showing equal effort and skills, women are devalued and insufficiently remunerated. For mothers, the gender pay gap widens even further. Several efforts are working to close the gender wage gap in Belgium.

Starting in 2018, Belgium’s large corporations have agreed to publicize their pay gap statistics. The country’s pay gap averages out to show that a woman’s salary is typically 5.8% lower than a man’s. Holding one of the lowest inequalities in salary, Belgium beats countries such as Sweden or Norway, countries that are known for their gender equality reputation. In fact, only three countries show better results than Belgium: Luxembourg at 1.3%, Romania at 3.3% and Italy at 4.7%. With the average gender gap across the EU being 19.2%, the question of what Belgium is doing differently to support their women is put forth.

Laws Fighting Gender-Based Inequality

Since 2012, Belgium’s legislature has enforced the gender pay gap to be taken into consideration when determining salaries for unions and employers. The Adopted Gender Pay Gap Reduction Act calls for each company to outline the labor cost difference between men and women. This would later be available to the public through the National Bank. Furthermore, the law requires employers to provide an action plan if it is reported that their female employees are earning less than their male counterparts. Women are also encouraged to reach out to their company’s mediator if they feel that they are being discriminated against.

Since 2011, a minimum of one-third of Belgium’s members on the board of directors of various companies and public-sector organizations must be women. To ensure this is being carried out, companies must present annual reports to prove their effectiveness in following the quota.

Additionally, the country’s general anti-discrimination act targets problems stemming from racism. Furthermore, Belgium has a specific law addressing gender-based discrepancies. This act is established to prohibit inequality regarding pregnancy, maternity, gender identity, gender expression or sex changes. These changes have been embedded into the country’s constitution.

Self-Organized Initiatives

Since 2005, progressive women in Belgium have been advocating for equal pay. An annual Equal Pay Day is organized to recognize how much harder women must work to earn the same amount of money as men. Public campaigns and large volunteer-run activities are just a few ways how organizations hope to raise awareness. Countries around the world have since adopted this practice, and it has become an “international source of inspiration.”

These are some ways the gender wage gap in Belgium is closed. However, the goal must be to eradicate the remaining difference of 5.8%. Still, Belgian laws can be an example of how to effectively fight gender inequality and empower women.

– Meghana Nagendra
Photo: Flickr

Women in CubaWomen have experienced oppression at the hands of men for centuries. The world is continually reminded of this fact in current cultural and societal practices. Different nations have made progress in recent years, but this is still a common and enduring problem. However, the information dispersed regarding this topic is commonly obscured by those in charge. Women in Cuba have faced these issues head-on for decades in their fight for equal rights. The long and complex history of women’s right makes it difficult to distill the reality of the situation. However, there is potential for improvement. Here are the key things to know about this pivotal issue.

Education

Compared to other nations, Cuba may appear to be far more progressive on women’s rights. According to the Havana Times, women comprise 53% of the congressional body, and they account for 60% of college graduates. These numbers portray a clear female dominance in areas of higher education and are much higher compared to other developed nations.

Women’s Organizations

“Women’s organizations” are still not welcome in the nation. A new state constitution took effect after the 1960s Cuban revolution that barred the legalization of women’s organizations. An exception was made for the already established FMC.

The FMC, the Federation of Cuban Women, is a communist-controlled organization intended for the advancement of the women in Cuba. This is not inherently indicative of any corruption. However, women are prevented from assembling themselves and are dependent upon the state-sanctioned organization due to the lack of organizational options.

The Workplace

Societal standards are still oppressive to women. Numbers depict women moving out of their roles in the household to earn degrees and serve in the congressional body. The caveat is that women are still expected to perform all the duties that come with running a household. This includes cooking, cleaning and childcare.

This “machismo” mindset is heavily prevalent in Latin American nations. Essentially, this relegates women to the stereotypical domestic roles. This is even applied to women who are practicing doctors, lawyers and teachers. This societal standard burdens working women as well as those who choose to not enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

Discrimination in the workplace is another struggle women in Cuba must face. Women still face societal barriers in how they are compensated and employed. Female physicians and professors are typically paid the governmental base wage because most hospitals and universities are state-owned. This means that women are usually earning $30/hour in these typically high-paying fields. Further, the congressional body that women composed the majority of does not have any actual legislative power. That power is found within the Communist Party, which is only 7% female.

A Positive Outlook

The situation for women in Cuba is difficult to navigate. However, there are statutes in place to assist women in their quest to achieve equal rights within their society. For example, the constitution has an article that specifically protects maternity leave as a right for mothers in the workforce. Furthermore, the accessibility of higher education promises benefits to women of all classes that will last for generations. In essence, there is a long way to go, but that does not diminish how far the women’s rights movement in Cuba has come already.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

workers in BangladeshBangladesh’s economy is mostly dependent on the textile/garment industry. Garments account for around 80% of the country’s exports. Some 3.5 million workers in Bangladesh, 85% of which are women, work long hours with pay too low to support themselves and their families. Not only is the pay low but they also work in cramped, dangerous conditions without any financial protection. Majority-female workers are also subject to sexual harassment and other forms of sexism in the workplace.

Moreover, in the recent global climate, many factories have shut down resulting in layoffs, pay cuts and a struggling economy (not to mention workforce). Many of these factory workers are struggling to make ends meet; forced to figure out just how to survive. Here are three ways that the garment workers of Bangladesh are struggling.

3 Ways Garment Workers in Bangladesh Are Struggling

  1. Working conditions in sweatshops are hazardous and violate workers’ rights. These workers often work long hours and have little time between shifts. They have very little workspace as it is typically cramped with other workers. This makes for quite a dangerous working environment. Making matters worse, factory owners have taken strides to limit and prevent labor unions from forming, even though they are legal. These factory owners are suppressing their workers and taking advantage of the situation.
  2. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected these laborers. Workers in the factories were struggling to get by — even before the pandemic closed many factories and lowered the level of garment exports. Many Western brands have canceled their orders from the factories due to decreased sales resulting from the pandemic. Western companies canceled their orders — a large percentage of them. This hurt both the factories and the workers. Factory owners are no longer able to pay their workers and 58% of factory owners reported having to shut down their factories because of such low demand. Management then consequently lays off many of these struggling workers. Without jobs, they have no way to support themselves and certainly not a family.
  3. Even though women account for 85% of the textile workforce in Bangladesh — they are still given neither the rights nor conditions they deserve. Women face sexual harassment and improper maternity leave. While the government guarantees maternity leave for at least 100 days for their first two children — one report noted that around 50% of all women interviewed in said report never enjoyed the proper break. Many of the women who do get maternity leave have to return to a lower position, regardless of the fact that it is illegal for companies to demote a woman simply because of maternity leave.

Organizations Making an Effort

Global Giving is a non-government organization that aims to educate women working in sweatshops and lift them out of poverty. The hope is that in turn, they would also encourage others to do the same by fighting for their rights. Global Giving is a great organization to support because not only does it directly improve the lives of individual women, it also helps women as a whole become more equal and independent. This may help women stray away from sweatshops.

Workers’ Rights

Bangladesh is facing widespread hardship within its working-class because of inadequate and unfair treatment. Adding to the already unsustainable pay — the global pandemic has caused even more layoffs and pay cuts than pre-outbreak outbreak times. The problem that existed before the pandemic was simply highlighted in these recent months. Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are of course worthy of fair treatment and should receive the rights they deserve.

Samira Akbary
Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh Factory Workers
Modern slavery tightly weaves into the fabric of agricultural labor and fast fashion factories all over the world. Globally, three out of every 1,000 people enter involuntary servitude. A disproportionate amount of these workers are women and children who experience multiple counts of abuse and workplace violations ranging from sexual harassment to wage extortion and rape. Many of these workers also do not receive the right or ability to form unions and ensure that their rights obtain protection: but some organizations are working to change this. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers emerged in 1993 in Immokalee, Florida by farmworkers who implemented community-based organizations to prevent agricultural workers from experiencing gender-based violence and human trafficking by their superiors. Their national consumer network, which started in 2000, boosts this organization, and it operates many programs, including the Fair Food Program and the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, which has particularly aided Bangladesh factory workers.

The Fair Food Program

The Fair Food Program is a result of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers partnering with farmworkers, farmers, food distribution companies and supply chains to ensure that the rights of agricultural workers who grow the food that companies sell are protected and guaranteed sustainable living wages and humane working conditions. Founded in 2001, the Fair Food Program is a consumer-driven grassroots effort: farmworkers boycott companies that obtain their products from suppliers perpetuating inhumane agricultural working conditions until they agree to abide by the Fair Food Act, which has companies such as Walmart, Whole Foods, Chipotle, Burger King, McDonalds, Trader Joe’s and several other food and retail companies have signed.

Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network

The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network formed as a response to the Corporate Social Responsibility Program (CSR). CSR emerged to monitor the effectiveness of ethical business practices, the protection of workers and oversight. However, the majority of corporations still view human rights violations and poor working conditions that their suppliers enforce as a public relations issue, rather than a violation of rights and safety. Thus, the Corporate Social Responsibility Program has failed to implement as it should, creating the need for an alternative program.

The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network has been implemented in locations housing unethical labor practices, including agricultural fields in Florida and sweatshops in Bangladesh. Their mission statement states that protections for human rights must be “worker-driven, enforcement-focused, and based on legally binding commitments that assign responsibility for improving working conditions to the global corporations at the top of [the] supply chains.” The most important policies that distinguish this program from the Corporate Social Responsibility Program are that the workers must be the driving force in voicing concerns and effecting change, not the companies or corporate leaders. Participating brands and companies must sign legally-binding agreements with worker organizations and agree to provide appropriate compensation to agricultural workers, and stop doing business with companies that do not adhere to ethical standards of labor.

Bangladesh Factory Workers

Bangladesh is the second-largest clothing manufacturer after China. Textile factory workers in Bangladesh have benefited a great deal from the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility program by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding agreement between IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and several Bangladeshi textile unions. The catalyst for this change was the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, which killed over 1,100 Bangladesh factory workers. The factory produced clothing for retail companies like Walmart, JCPenney, the Children’s Place and many other brands.

Over 190 brands and retailers have signed the Bangladesh Accord including Primark, Adidas, Arcadia Group, Deltex, Hugo Boss, Killtec Sport and H&M. The agreement requires safety training programs, protection of the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, independent safety inspections, promoting Freedom of Association (FoA) and getting workers to utilize the Safety and Health Complaints mechanism.

Protecting Workers in the Face of COVID-19

COVID-19 has also been a serious hazard and roadblock for factory workers in Bangladesh. NPR reported in April 2020, that the pandemic has caused 1 million factory workers to lose their jobs, while a quarter of Bangladeshi citizens are already living below the poverty line.

Reuters reported in June 2020 that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has recently opened a laboratory for garment workers to be tested for COVID-19 after the re-opening of factories, and is also being forced by the Accord to adhere by social distancing regulations while operating.

These regulations to protect the human rights of workers across the world are steps in the right direction. Through further implementation, the corporate supply chain could become a much more ethical place.

Isabel Corp
Photo: Unsplash

Garment Industry in Bangladesh
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the number one business in the country, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. Four out of five of the 4.4 million workers employed in the garment industry in Bangladesh are women, so one can often consider issues facing this industry to be feminist issues. Here are five facts about the garment industry in Bangladesh including how they relate to feminism.

5 Facts About the Garment Industry in Bangladesh

  1. The garment industry in Bangladesh is huge. As previously stated, the garment industry is the number one business in the country. Bangladesh is the second-largest individual country in the world for apparel manufacturing, second only to China. H&M, Target and Marks and Spencer are among the global brands that contract with garment factories in Bangladesh for clothing production.
  2. The minimum wage is not a living wage. The average garment industry worker will work for 12 hours a day and make about $95 a month. The majority of these workers are women who support several relatives and live paycheck to paycheck. According to an international aid group Oxfam, only 2% of the price of an article of clothing that a person purchases in Australia go to the worker who made it. By contrast, a top fashion industry CEO will make in four days what a Bangladeshi garment factory worker will make in a lifetime.
  3. The garment industry in Bangladesh has a history of disaster. Two garment factory disasters, one in 2012 and one in 2013, left almost 1,200 garment factory workers dead. Following these incidents, many changes occurred to improve labor regulations and safety conditions in the garment factories. Many companies contracting with these factories also stepped up, paying full wages to workers unable to return, as well as providing compensation to injured workers and families of those who had died.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the garment industry in Bangladesh hard. Millions of workers are unemployed due to the global pandemic. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer’s Export Association (BGMEA) reported that 1,025 factories experienced cancellations of export orders totaling 864.17 million items worth $2.81 billion. The BGMEA president also reported a 50% decrease in orders and does not expect the sales to bounce back for at least another year. Although Bangladeshi law requires employers to pay severance, few actually do. There are no unemployment benefits in Bangladesh. Many displaced garment workers fear that they will die of starvation if they do not die of COVID-19 first.
  5. Pre-existing shortcomings of the Bangladeshi garment industry are being highlighted. Longstanding issues of the industry include a lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by industry owners and big brands, loopholes in the country’s labor laws and a disconnect between a practical living wage and the legal minimum wage. After most factories shut down because of COVID-19, the Bangladeshi government issued a $600 million bailout for all manufacturing industries in Bangladesh. The garment sector received the majority of this, but the amount barely covered about a month’s salary for all the workers in the garment industry.

Despite the seemingly dire state of the garment industry in Bangladesh in the face of constant poverty coupled with a global pandemic, some are making many efforts and are continuing to implement them in order to better the industry. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched many efforts to better the garment industry in Bangladesh since the disasters of 2012 and 2013. One of these efforts is called the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program which offers career progression opportunities for female sewing operators. They receive training in the soft and technical skills necessary for them to assume supervisory positions. The program also trains managers on how to select, promote and support female workers in the industry. Since the launch of this program, IFC has trained over 140 female sewing operators in 28 factories, 60% of whom received promotion weeks after completing the training. Remake, a nonprofit in San Francisco that aims to make the global fashion industry more humane and environmentally sustainable, has launched another effort. Recently, Remake has pressured big brands to pay back contractors in Bangladesh for whatever they ordered before the pandemic. Of these brands, 16 have already agreed to do so.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Flickr

Shipbreaking Practices
The world transports roughly 90 percent of its goods by sea. Shipping is vital to the global economy — it enables trade among people, nations and companies, but rarely does one sit back and think about what happens to these mammoth-sized ships once they reach the end of their operational life. How does one manage the waste that a 100,000-ton cargo ship creates? The answer is shipbreaking practices.

Shipbreaking Practices 101

Shipbreaking, the process of recycling old ships so others may use them as piecemeal, is dangerous for workers and the environment. However, innovations in the field are paving a path for more sustainable and just shipping practices. Shipbreaking involves dismantling ships and selling them off in parts. The process occurs 25-30 years into a ship’s life at which point the costs of maintaining an old ship exceed those of building a new ship.

Shipbreaking is a dangerous industry for workers and the environment alike. Europe and the United States have placed heavy restrictions on the practice due to regard for social and environmental protection laws, but instead of addressing the industry’s problems, the crackdown has merely moved shipbreaking to the east. Today, an estimated 85 percent of the world’s ship recycling occurs in just four countries: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. 

The Human Cost of Shipbreaking Practices

 The International Labor Organization considers shipbreaking to be one of the world’s most dangerous industries. Most of the time, workers take apart ships by hand without protective gear or equipment. They do this in 40-degree heat on beaches far away from hospitals or emergency rooms in case things go awry. Most injuries and deaths occur due to general accidents like falling material and fires or exposure to toxic materials like radiation, mercury and asbestos.

It is difficult to estimate the number of fatalities since many shipyard workers are migrants. However, evaluations indicate that the accident rate lies at two in 1,000 people. Further, 16 percent of workers suffer from asbestos-related diseases. 

The Environmental Cost of Shipbreaking Practices

In addition to the cost to human lives, shipbreaking is detrimental to the environment. Much of shipbreaking occurs via beaching which is a method of ramming vessels into tidal flats, typically on a beach and stripping them of all usable materials by hammer and blowtorch. Beaching tends to be the most environmentally and socially damaging approach to ship recycling. Steel waste, oil from vessels and persistent organic pollutants enter waterways and pollute the air, killing valuable species and ecosystems in the process.

For instance, the Bay of Bengal, located in Bangladesh, is the world’s largest bay and boasts diverse marine life ranging from coral reefs and mangroves to fish spawning of vulnerable species. The Bay of Bengal is also in close proximity to one of the world’s biggest ship recycling sites: Chittagong. Metal waste that is not resellable often stays on shores, washing into the Bay at alarming rates, and thereby increasing the cadmium and copper levels in the water. This increases fish mortality and affects hatching around the port city. Waste and other pollutants put especially rare marine species at the risk of extinction.

A Better Future: Alternatives to Current Shipbreaking Practices 

Currently, the best alternative to beaching is dry-dock stand recycling. Using this method, workers safely recycle ships on a stable platform with the necessary toxic waste management systems and lifting equipment. Most ships are already built on dry-dock platforms so this method is simply giving existing docks a secondary purpose. It is a non-invasive approach to fixing a big problem. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a 10-year-old coalition of environmental, human and labor rights organizations, is making significant strides in advocating for dry-dock platform recycling methods. It has pushed through progressive E.U. laws on ship recycling standards and publishes annual data on ships dismantled globally. The publication allows investors to divest from shipping companies that engage in harmful shipbreaking practices. One such example is Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund divestment decision. Based on data that the NGO Shipbreaking Platform published, the fund decided to divest from two shipowners for poor ship recycling management in 2018.

Another potential solution to addressing shipbreaking is changing the manufacturing of vessels altogether. With an approach that is a more transformative approach, there are accompanying complications. Currently, ship transport generates 3 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions per year. Making ship design more environmental can tackle this larger issue in addition to greenifying ship recycling.

According to a 2020 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, hydrogen could power 99 percent of container vessels traversing the Pacific ocean. More than half of those vessels would require minimal changes to make this transition happen. Government-funded organizations like Sandia National Laboratories and private companies like Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine are currently researching hydrogen-based solutions in shipping. 

Hydrogen-powered ships are likely still 10 years out in the future but investment in these ideas will fundamentally change the way we approach the manufacturing and recycling of ships globally.

Current end-of-life ship recycling practices damage the environment and harm workers in developing countries who must work under life-threatening conditions within the industry. The good news is that an alternative exists. Dry-dock shipping yards provide a safe and environmentally sound alternative to current shipbreaking practices. Changing shipbreaking practices now depend on individuals and coalitions like the NGO Shipbreaking Platform to advocate for widespread adoption.

Kate McGinn
Photo: Wikimedia

Women in the Garment Industry
Breaking the ceiling of the minimum living cost per day remains a challenge for millions of the poorest people on the earth, especially women. Amongst the causes of poverty, the fact that women are often not part of the labor force is one of the biggest quagmires that keeps them struggling. However, one area that women in the developing world often work in is the garment industry. In fact, there are many women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh today.

Bangladesh’s garment industry’s products make up the majority of what it exports. The expansion of the garment industry is quickly pulling people out of poverty in Bangladesh. Women are the major source of labor, where they make up 80 percent of workers. One might ask whether the garment and textile industry could be a gateway for women in the rest of the world to escape poverty.

Demand for Growth

Despite the fact that international trade has recently encountered uncertainty, a report from Mckinsey pointed out that the demand for growth from major populated countries, such as India and Indonesia, will continually saturate the market. With the demand continually persisting, many expect that the supply will continue to expand as well.

Beyond Asia, many in Africa see opportunities in the rising garment industry. Case studies from the African Development Bank Group indicate that women make up a significant part of the garment industry in Africa. In Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire, the two major cotton cultivators in the world, 80 percent of garment workers are women. Moreover, these countries’ start-up entrepreneurs are largely women.

Lifting Women Out of Poverty

The rising figures of women in the garment industry excite people’s outlook on the economy, but this is not the final answer to lifting women out of poverty. The problems of delayed or no and low payment, forced labor, dangerous working environments and other exploitation of women pull the world’s attention and push for reform. From a global perspective, the campaign for humanitarian improvement is one major goal of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond economic growth, acquiring decent work conditions, gender equality and opportunity for education matter when it comes to empowering women workers.

In Bangladesh, the international garment industry used to benefit from cheap labor because of loose legislative regulations and awful working conditions. More recently, the situation of underpayment has received challenges. For example, garment workers in Bangladesh raised their issues of low wages and poor working conditions, causing unrest and subsequently leading to Bangladesh increasing the minimum wage by 5 percent. This may seem minor, but it greatly impacted the garment industry in Bangladesh and started the process of reform. Consequential bills, including the signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, constantly forge the formal framework to ensure the well-being of women in the garment industry.

The development of the global garment industry is a good hammer for women to smash the wall of poverty, but they still require more. The problems rooted in the most impoverished countries are not only “money concerned.” Social injustice and gender bias also influence the liberation of women. Luckily, the action of women and their social power is opening another window for reforms and improvement.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Poultry Workers
Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in America. According to the USDA, estimates determine that the per capita American consumption of chicken will rise from 28 pounds per person in 1960 to 94 pounds per person in 2020. This is in contrast to the per capita consumption of beef in America, which projections determine will fall from 94.1 pounds in 1976 to 57.5 pounds per person in 2020. This certainly reflects the rising demand for broiler meat, or commercial chicken farmers breed and raise for meat production in the U.S. However, not many Americans wish to work in poultry processing factories. In response to this shortage of workers, many poultry companies use migrant workers to fill their processing lines. Recent reports suggest that these migrant poultry workers are in danger of harsh working conditions and labor exploitation.

Issues with Poultry Processing Plants in the U.S.

Although poultry processing plants use machinery, much of killing, deboning and packaging of chicken still depend on human hands. The processing rooms’ temperature is usually at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to reduce microbial growth. However, this cold temperature makes it harder for the line workers to safely use their sharp cutting tools since their hands get stiff from the cold temperature. The factories’ demand to process chicken at a faster pace further compounds this hardship. The U.S. Department of Agriculture caps the speed of these processing lines at 140 chickens per minute. However, reports suggest that many processing plants increase their line speed in order to meet their company’s quota. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data further reflects these dangerous conditions. In addition, line workers repeat the same motion while performing their job of disassembling a chicken. Some reports suggest that 86 percent of line workers suffer from wrist pains, swollen joints and chronic pain in their hands and arms.

Migrant Poultry Workers in the U.S.

Migrant poultry workers fill the labor demand of the poultry industry. The EB-3 visa allows poultry companies to hire migrant workers. As long as a company places two want ads seeking American workers in a local newspaper and a notice on the state jobs board, poultry companies can justify hiring an immigrant instead of an American. Many migrant poultry workers, if documented, agree to what might be less-than-ideal working conditions for a promise of green-sponsorship by their employers.  Responding to this high demand, there are migration consultants outside of the U.S. who charge between $20,000 and $130,000 to help a migrant worker immigrate to America. This high fee can be a cause of poverty for many migrant poultry workers since the majority of them will make less than $20,000 a year.

According to the Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report, nearly 30 percent of meat and poultry workers were foreign-born non-citizens in 2015. Among this number, an estimated one-fourth of the migrant workers were undocumented. This visa sponsorship by poultry companies makes it harder for the migrant workers to protest against the harsh working conditions of poultry processing factories. Whether a migrant worker is documented or undocumented, the recent rhetoric of the U.S. government toward migrants is making many workers in the poultry industry nervous. In 2019, for example, accusations emerged that multiple poultry companies conspired to keep the wages down for their immigrant workforce.

Improving the Poultry Industry in the U.S.

There are many people and organizations that are striving to improve the working conditions in the poultry industry. Many human rights groups encourage the consumers to voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of working conditions in poultry processing plants. By voicing their dissatisfaction, humanitarian groups believe that this will give more power to the migrant poultry workers to voice their plights.

Tyson, one of the biggest poultry meat suppliers in the U.S., made a pledge in 2017 that it will improve the working conditions in its factories. In the pledge, Tyson stated its commitment to reduce worker injury rate by 15 percent until it reaches zero, increase employee retention by 10 percent each year and improve the transparency between the public and its factories. In 2020, the Humane Society of the U.S. and other groups sued the USDA for increasing the line speed at U.S. poultry processing plants. In its 2019 report, The Human Rights Watch encouraged the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take charge of improving the work conditions.

The harsh working conditions and treatment of migrant poultry workers in the poultry industry certainly presents a complicated picture. Chicken is becoming America’s favorite choice of protein as it is surpassing beef in terms of per capita consumption. However, behind every piece of chicken, there are migrant workers who must face constant hardships on a daily basis. The cold temperature of the factories causes numerous physical ailments for the workers, while many forego voicing their plight in fear of deportation. The solution is not to stop eating chicken. Instead, as many human rights organizations have demonstrated, consumers must voice their dissatisfaction with the poultry industry. With the recent surge in the public interest for the working conditions of the poultry industry, many hope that better and more fulfilling working conditions are coming for the poultry workers of the U.S.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr