Apparel giants like Zara and H&M have long been the top clients of Bangladesh’s $30 billion garment industry.
The profits made by these leading global outlets come largely down to the hard labour provided by workers in countries like Bangladesh.
And that is why it smacks of hypocrisy when H&M, C&A, Tchibo, and Inditex (which owns Zara) announce that they are boycotting the Dhaka Apparel Summit, a major annual BGMEA event.
The brands are claiming the boycott is in support of garment workers who were fired, detained, or both, for participating in wage strikes earlier this year.
But it bears asking, after reaping so many benefits from Bangladesh, why now are the brands pretending to take the higher ground?
Retailers like H&M and Zara have long been known for their “fast-fashion” approach to producing garments -- a process that prioritises constant, rapid production of goods; neither worker safety nor workers’ rights have ever been a priority for them.
These companies pay a pittance for high quality garments, as it keeps their profit margins high.
If they truly wanted to see improvements in worker rights, they would be paying substantially more than they are paying now.
To start grand-standing while still demanding cheap clothes from Bangladesh is more than a little insincere.
While it is true that many of our RMG factories have some ways to go in terms of meeting the standards of worker safety set by bodies such as Accord and Alliance, simply not participating in the summit will not achieve any goals.
Bangladesh is steadily making improvements in worker rights, and admittedly much work remains to be done, as the sector has grown so much in such a short time.
But if there are concerns to be addressed, certainly these global companies can engage in dialogue with the RMG sector and the government, and constructively work towards improving worker conditions.
A boycott of this kind will help no one.