A new report from the Guardian found that a manufacturer for F=, a UK company that advertises itself to be “all about inspiring and empowering girls,” has fired 100 workers for protesting their low wages. Ironically, the company sells £28 t-shirts printed with the words “GIRL POWER” on them, and offers £10 of each sale to Worldreader, a nonprofit that provides people in the developing world free access to digital books. “In one case,” reports The Guardian, “a female employee was beaten on the orders of the management and threatened with murder.”
The shirts are made in a factory owned by Bangladeshi firm Dird Composite Textiles, where some workers made 42p (roughly $0.56) an hour. At the same time, a new minimum wage in the area was raised to 8,000 taka (£71.34, or about $94.42) a month—half of what protestors demanded. Nabeel Ud Daulah, group managing director for Dird, said the workers were not fired, but resigned, “because they were not satisfied with the new wage structure that was announced by the Bangladesh government” and that “all workers that resigned have either received their due financial entitlements or have been contacted to collect their due entitlements.” The Guardian reports that upon reaching out to F=, the company stopped production on the shirts “until the situation is resolved.”
Bangaldeshi garment workers have been protesting for years. In April 2013, Jezebel reported that 1,000 workers died when a factory built on an unsafe site collapsed. Rallied by the injustice, laborers organized and demanded better conditions and wages, at least $100/month, and were met with violence. Though the minimum wage in 2019 was been raised to $94.42/month (that’s six years later) it hasn’t been an easy battle—last month, Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) threatened to cut workers’ pay and shut down factories “indefinitely” if they continued to protest, Reuters reports.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, shared the following:
“The huge number of dismissals over wage protests shows how workers’ voices have been suppressed and how they are lacking freedom of expression. The workers that got fired know the law and their rights. In many cases they were union leaders in their respective factories. These workers are picked intentionally so there is no voice left in a factory to fight against retaliation and form a union.”
The real danger of conflating and commodifying feminism with empowerment-branded products is not only that it cheapens the message—it’s that marketing equality often reinforces inequality, in this case, literally.
Read the full report here.