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It’s no surprise that the Spice Girls T-shirt was made by workers on poverty wages

21 January, 2019The bitter irony of a T-shirt promoting gender justice being made by women on poverty wages reflects an ongoing disconnect between campaigners in the West, and the realities of global supply chains.

A report in the Guardian has revealed that a charity T-shirt promoting women’s equality is made by Bangladeshi women earning well below a living wage. Sold for £19.40 for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign, the women make just 35p per hour. The factory is part-owned by a government minister.

This follows a number of other sourcing scandals, including a case in 2015, when it was revealed that a campaign T-shirt with the slogan This is What a Feminist Looks Like was made by women on low wages in Mauritius. The workers were beaten by police for protesting against their working conditions.

This shows a failure in ethical procurement processes which should be standard in any charity - but it also reveals the difficulty of doing due diligence properly. Supply chains are opaque by design. Hiding the circumstances in which products are made allows retailers to claim plausible deniability. To put it simply, we cannot trust what retailers say about their sourcing practices, and self-regulation has no credibility.

We need transparency, strong unions and clear sourcing guidelines. This can only come about with a structural change in the relationships between production, sourcing and retail, with a clear role for workers’ representatives. IndustriALL Global Union has done a significant amount of work in changing these relations through developing binding agreements with global companies.

This work is most advanced in the ACT initiative, which is developing a new way to ensure accountability in supply chains, and guarantee that workers’ voices are heard.

IndustriALL is also calling for a UN treaty and an ILO Convention on supply chains. This work needs to go further, and crucially, more brands need to come on board and support initiatives that deliver true accountability.