Leading Bangladeshi activist Kalpona Akter adds a powerful voice to our urgent call to implement our ground-breaking proposal for legislation to ensure a living wage is paid to millions of garment workers across the world, 80% of whom are women.
Kalpona began her working life as a garment worker at the age of 12, where she experienced the injustice of poverty pay first-hand. The shocking conditions and the lack of protection for workers she witnessed compelled her to become an activist. Despite enduring abuse for helping fellow garment workers demand fair labour rights – including being fired from her job – she has continued the struggle and is now a leading light in the fight for a living wage for garment workers. Kalpona has worked closely with The Circle for several years and most recently featured in the Fashionscapes – A Living Wage documentary, made by Livia Firth, co-founder of The Circle.
Kalpona says: “It is a huge honour to be appointed to this role and continue my journey with The Circle. I have always admired the women involved, the focus on collective action and the ground-breaking work calling for new legislation for a living wage for garment workers. From a very young age I experienced the indignity of poverty pay as a garment worker, and I have seen the devastation it causes to so many women and girls. I was making 6 dollars a month for working 400 hours, that was my life. I was on my feet for 16 or 18 hours, no sitting, and we were slapped by the supervisors, and kicked by them. The men who supervised us were at liberty to sexually harass and abuse us and we had nowhere to turn to for protection. If my mum had received a living wage, enough for us all to live on, I wouldn’t have had to work in a factory as a child at the age of 12.
In my role as an Ambassador for The Circle, I will continue the urgent call for legal protections that will finally put an end to the shocking conditions that the fashion industry creates and does nothing to fix. We need to listen to the voices of women and girls who are living with poverty pay, whose lives have been made immeasurably worse by the pandemic. We need political and industry leaders to take this abuse seriously, and we need to come together and call for the much-needed and game-changing legislation that The Circle is proposing.”
The minimum wage set by many garment producing countries is not enough to live on and estimates show that approximately 60 to 80 million garment workers are in poverty. In November 2020, as many as 77% of workers reported experiencing hunger daily; and 88% had drastically reduced the amount of food they and their family members consumed and/or skipped meals (Worker Rights Consortium). Our new legislative proposal will create a race to the top by incentivising governments to ensure garment workers have the right to a living wage and encouraging big fashion brands to only purchase from suppliers who pay a living wage.
Annie Lennox, Founder of The Circle, says: “I am thrilled to welcome Kalpona as an Ambassador to The Circle, she is a true powerhouse in the fight for justice for millions of women and she will help us push for legal change to protect women from the shocking conditions they work under. She is an inspirational activist and together we will galvanise a growing body of voices with lived experience to economically empower women across the world and finally end the crisis of poverty pay for garment workers through our game–changing legislative proposal.”
Poverty wages and lack of employment protection meant garment workers were especially vulnerable when the pandemic hit, and they are now disproportionately suffering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, global fashion brands have cancelled large contracts, putting millions of vulnerable workers in the garment industry out of work. Many of these workers are women, and with no savings to fall back on they are struggling to support themselves and their families, to pay for housing, legal aid, and essential supplies.
Livia Firth, co-founder and Ambassador of The Circle adds: “I have known Kalpona for many years and she is a true figure of inspiration to me and millions of women in the garment industry. Her voice in The Circle’s campaign for a living wage in the fashion industry will be vital in the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights and wages which is more urgent than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of garment workers out of work with no legal protection. This system of greed and exploitation has trapped millions of the world’s poorest workers – mostly women – in cycles of unnecessary suffering and poverty, while they produce products for an industry that measures profit in the trillions.”
Raakhi Shah, CEO, The Circle comments: “Kalpona has been a long-time supporter of our work and we are thrilled she is joining us an Ambassador in our fight to create a fairer world for women and girls. Global feminism and giving power to the voices of those on the front-line of the fight for equality and safety for women are core to the values of The Circle.”
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