Certain challenges are present on the workers' front too, many of whom have migrated from rural villages to towns for work. In 2019, Forbes declared that people in Bangladesh who worked in agriculture or market selling earned about as much money as they could have at the factory, often with fewer hours, better conditions and lesser risk of serious injuries and disabilities. However, there is a certain social prestige attached to "moving to the city" and working in factories for these people, especially the rural-urban migrants, so they might be reluctant to leave their low-paying horrible factory jobs even if they're likely to get killed in the process. Then, trade unions, a solution which apparently has worked in the West, is actually detrimental to these workers due to their collective failure to negotiate with owners and lack of support from the government. In fact, waves of redundancies are primarily targeted to union members, as an act of vengeance, a process known as "union busting".
So, eventually, is there a way out?
The answer to that is uncertain, since brands themselves need to step in and take accountability of the factories they source from, possibly even ensure safer conditions, which is tough to achieve in real life, even with growing consumer movements towards ethical manufacturing practices. The campaign launched by Remake called #PayUp last March drew significant attention to the dozen or so global brands and retailers who, rather than take a cut on their profits, chose to cancel orders or default on payments for clothes that had already been made in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and other garment centres. A step in the right direction, but a lot more is wanting.
Most importantly, awareness is required on behalf of the "gods" in question here; the arrest of Masud Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, is an example, albeit a poor one. Rather, many owners in Bangladesh have actually obtained steps to support the destitute, godless workers – with food packages, monetary benefits and even rent-breaks to those who resided in factory quarters. Acting as a much better example of the role garments-owners can play, this is something that consumers and watchdogs need to appreciate, support and endorse.
At the same time, this wave of awareness and sympathy needs to extend beyond the apparel industry – the 2011 study by Dr. Suraiya Begum titled "Skin Problems Among the Workers Employed in Leather Tanneries" for the National Institute of Preventative and Social Medicine in Bangladesh reflect that the garments industry isn't the only culprit here. Furthermore, even in the West, cities like Los Angeles continue to harbour sweatshop factories. So, in no way is the battle before us easy.
The picture presented here may be bleak, to say the least, but signs of progress exist nonetheless. For a start, we now have this data at our disposal to make conscious choices, and this can be said for consumers, manufacturers and governments alike. Sustainability when it comes to natural resources is important, yes, but in the context of human resources, it's absolutely vital, because without them, we may not have a future generation to look forward to at all. The ordeal of the sweatshop is hence a threat to mankind, and it's time again for us to expend our blood, toil, tears and sweat to save humanity from itself. Let's get these unfortunate people down from their hamster-wheels once and for all!