Labor Activist, Kalpona Akter: My name is Kalpona Akter. I’m one of the founders of Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, fighting in the frontline for workers’ jobs with dignity. And today I wanted to talk to you about this white t-shirt.
A white t-shirt just doesn't come out of the blue. It has many labor what it is gone through. Cotton makes yarn, yarn makes textile. These fabrics come to the warehouse, then a cutterman will cut them. Then into the sewing section. It goes to the finishing section for dry washing and then packing. This is an easy, easy white t-shirt. Usually the factory make 3,000 or more than that a day.
When you buy a t-shirt, it just cost you $5 or $10. But no one talks about the workers who made them. A worker here in Bangladesh, they make $95 a month as a minimum wage. It is not one person full month cost here, let alone if she has two children at home.
When you are workers you have some fundamental rights. I should be working eight hours in a day. I should be not forced for overtime. I should have a union voice in my workplace. And my workplace should be safe. Factory owner perspectives, they just don't wanted to tell you that, because if you know the law and rights, then you will be asking for that and they will be losing the profit.
Who make profit out of your white t-shirt? It is the brands. When we talk about living wages, they don't want to listen to us. They always say that they cannot pay because they don't earn enough for making these clothes.
In my eyes, if workers who have jobs with dignity made the t-shirt, that is sustainable. Sustainable from the consumer perspective is that you are not just using them one or two times and sending back to our country by saying that you are doing charity. Ultimately, you are dumping that t-shirt to us again.
Hearing that your t-shirt has made in this condition that you did not expect, don't feel sad—feel angry, and use your anger in a way that make difference for people. If there is injustice, someone always can stand up and speak out. If there is someone, why not you? You have the power to make that change.