Fashion brands paid Bangladesh factories less than cost: Survey

Desk Report: Fashion brands sourcing clothes from Bangladesh for the British market reportedly paid the factories below the cost of production, found a study by the University of Aberdeen alongside UK-based justice charity Transform Trade.

The majority of Bangladeshi factories selling to 24 of the largest global retailers report them paying the same prices almost two years on from the start of the pandemic, despite the cost of raw materials increasing.

A total of 1,000 factories were surveyed for the study and found that many were paid the same prices as before the pandemic two years ago – despite soaring costs of materials. The report looked at the period from March 2020 to December 2021.

Muhammad Azizul Islam, professor of sustainability accounting and transparency at Aberdeen University, led the project .

He said: “Two years on from the start of the pandemic, Bangladeshi garment workers were not being paid enough to live on, with one in five manufacturers struggling to pay minimum wage while many fashion brands which use Bangladeshi labour increased their profits. “Inflation rates soaring around the world are likely to have exacerbated this even further.”

He said larger brands buying from many factories were engaging in unfair purchasing practices more frequently than smaller brands, according to suppliers.

The garment industry accounts for 85% of Bangladesh export income, with more than 12 million Bangladeshis dependent on the sector.

The study also found that after the pandemic, factories only employed 75% of the workers they had before, suggesting that up to 900,000 could have lost their jobs.

Prof Islam has spent 17 years looking into the lives of workers in Bangladeshi fashion factories. He grew up in Dhaka city surrounded by them. He hopes that policy makers in the UK will listen to his findings.

Several retailers denied the claims made in the report.

“Retailers say in their reports that they have a commitment to the workers and they have made progress, but transparency is a big problem in the sector and it is difficult to establish if certain products are ethically produced,” Professor Muhammad Azizul Islam further said.