Why do we care about #fashionrevolutionweek? Because everything we’ve done in our seven-year history shows that a real revolution in how our clothes are made is urgently needed.
You may have heard me tell Mahia’s* story before. She came to Dhaka as a teenager after being abused by an older man in her village. She worked at a garment factory for three months without getting paid. She went to the local shrine seeking help and was approached by a woman who said she could help her get another job. Yet she was sold into a brothel where she was imprisoned until a customer helped her escape. When she returned to Dhaka, she survived by casual prostitution until she was arrested and locked in a “rehabilitation” home for two years.
This week I sat down with two other women to hear about their time working in the garments industry.
Shahra’s* family was impoverished so she spent her childhood on the streets and in and out of children shelters. At age twelve or thirteen she started working in a garments factory. Just like Mahia*, she didn’t receive her salary so she left after a few months. She eventually married, only to find out that her husband had another family. She was pregnant and desperate to make sure her baby had a father so she went to his family, but they abused and rejected her.
She went to stay at the local shrine where many seek refuge, but she was harassed. Desperate, she married another man she met there. She found out about the training and rehabilitation programme our partner NGO runs and completed that but didn’t have confidence that she could sew kantha at Basha so she went to a garments factory instead. She was working ten to twelve hours per day but was paid less than $50 per month. She never received the overtime they were legally obligated to pay. Shahra* returned to Basha where she was trained to make jewellery and now she is earning a good wage.
Yalina* came to Dhaka as a young teenage bride. Her husband wasn’t able to earn enough for them to live on because he struggles with mental illness. So Yalina* started working at a garments factory. There were days she worked 20 hours per day, but never received any overtime pay, going home each month with around $40. She worked until she was seven months pregnant and then left as they also didn’t provide maternity leave, even though it is legally mandated. Yalina* started cleaning and cooking in a neighbour’s home until she found out about the training programme that led her to make jewellery at Basha.
These women all continue to struggle at times. Their lives are complicated and hard. But as they work, their children are playing and learning in the same building. The artisans have classes every day, improving their reading, developing themselves, and gaining life skills. They are supervised, counselled and taught by women so they feel safe and comfortable. They have employee benefits and an opportunity to earn well. They are proud of the items they create.
Abuses in factories continue. Labour laws and safety rules are too often violated. The horror of the Rana Plaza collapse in which over 1,100 workers died in still emblazoned in our minds five years later.
Despite this disaster, there has been little reform in the garments industry. But when you buy Basha products, you can have confidence that your purchase is helping the artisan continue her journey from exploitation to hope.
“It was good work, the kind of work that let you sleep soundly at night and, when you awoke, look forward to the day.” – Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses
“There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers