Iqbal echoes that sentiment, saying BGMEA is passing along the very treatment it has received from above. “Buyers are aggressive in downsizing the pricing. The same level of aggressiveness translates to BGMEA,” he says.
Vogue Business reached out to 10 of the largest buyers in Bangladesh, according to Open Supply Hub data — H&M, Inditex, Walmart, Next, Lidl, Asda, C&A, Tesco, Aldi, Marks & Spencer, VF Corporation and Target — with four questions: are they increasing the prices written into their buying contracts to enable suppliers to pay higher wages to workers, particularly if they have expressed support publicly for higher wages? If they have increased or committed to increase prices, are they doing so over the long term — or will it be for one season only? What is the labour cost in their cost sheet with suppliers in Bangladesh — and what was that number one, three and five years ago?
No brand answered any of the questions directly.
The pricing data on its own, though, from various sources including BGMEA, consistently shows a downward trend in what brands will pay for products — which is extra troubling for labour, say experts, because brands are not paying more while material costs have gone up. The only variable that suppliers have control over is wages. One supplier in Bangladesh, asking to remain anonymous, expects brands not to budge on price. In the rare case they do, the supplier expects it to be temporary — while the world is paying attention, essentially — with brands then reverting a season or two later, sometimes by enough to recoup the additional cost they’d invested earlier.
H&M, Inditex and C&A sent general statements in response to Vogue Business’s queries, which included a question asking explicitly about steps they’ve taken outside of issuing public statements. (Most brands did not respond at all; VF Corporation declined to comment.)
Inditex referred to a public statement that references the ACT Labour Costing Principle. H&M sent a statement saying it wants all garment workers to earn a fair compensation and have good working conditions. C&A said it is “monitoring the situation in Bangladesh closely and with concern”.
These statements are telling on their own, says Narayanasamy. “It’s not about monitoring. It’s about, what is the role that you actually play in this wage setting process?” she says. “There is no monitoring [to be done]. There needs to be action.”
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