2020 was a terrible year for workers. Workers struggled to survive, to feed their families and to get to work safely. Workers risked their health and became infected with Covid in their workplaces. Violence against workers increased, pregnant workers were fired in mass.
But in the midst of this terrible, devastating year, the pandemic also exposed to the world to many of the garment industry’s long-existing problems and there is no going back.
The pandemic highlighted that brand-led initiatives and corporate social responsibility efforts are never going to provide workers with the protections they need. We were reminded that in spite of the many, many impressive-sounding greenwashing initiatives, brands will (and did) leave workers desolate in their pursuit of profit. $40 billion in cancelled orders is a theft at an enormous scale.
While we’ve fought hard to recover more than half of that, when the stakes as a high as an $18 billion debt, it is no longer possible to pretend that brands shouldn’t be doing more. And there’s so much more that needs to be done. The pandemic showed us that workers need greater social protection. The pandemic showed us that investments in worker health and safety are a necessity not a luxury.
The pandemic showed us lack of savings or safety net leaves workers particularly vulnerable in a time of crisis. We have an answer for that; it’s a living wage and it needs to become a reality rather than a dream.
What workers want is not complicated. They want safer, more secure lives, to have more time for their families and to be able to give their children better lives.
This year, in spite of all of the challenges, saw incredible bravery on behalf of workers. We saw unprecedented levels of worker power and disruption. Here in Bangladesh as well as globally. From our brothers and sisters in Myanmar taking a leading role in the country’s revolution to workers in the United States trying to organize themselves at Amazon, one of the most powerful and ruthless corporations in the world. It’s been more than one hundred years since the first May Day became International Workers Day and many of our demands are the same as that of those first strikers. Solidarity and mass mobilization is the only way forward. It’s the only thing that has historically brought about real transformation in workers’ lives. As we reflect this May Day on the one thing we can do to make conditions better for workers, it is this. We must support freedom of association and pave the way for social dialogue and collective bargaining. We must support workers to organize and collaborate with one another in order to fight for a better future.