Potential Alternatives for Boycott

            Proponents of boycotting fast-fashion retailers see this strategy as a way to achieve safer working conditions and higher wages for the factory workers in the RMG industry. However, given that boycotts of fast-fashion retailers are primarily harmful for the workers, what might be some other solutions?

            Research by Pines and Meyer (2005) found that the most effective way to achieve change is having governments take action, for example, by enforcing regulations through new legislation. Applied to this case, if governments created laws to protect the workers and their rights with strict regulations, companies would be legally bound to adapt, which would significantly improve the situation. However, as mentioned before in the case of Bangladesh, the country does have a legal framework set up to guarantee workers’ rights. Yet again, that does not mean that in reality, these laws are implemented and monitored everywhere. Turning towards governments alone to change the circumstances may not be most effective in developing countries for two reasons. First of all, Bangladesh, as well as many other developing countries, are highly dependent on the RMG sector and its foreign customers. If the government suddenly turned over the entire sector by forcing brands to improve the labour situation, labour cost would simultaneously increase, making the production in that country unattractive to fast-fashion retailers, who would then try to find alternative production locations. This would, in turn, negatively affect the country’s economic growth. Thus, one could question whether governments would even be willing to take such action. Secondly, close monitoring of the adherence to regulations initiated by the government is not always possible or can be subject to manipulation, as private monitoring of state-initiatives has turned into an entire competitive business in itself (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights [ECCHR], 2016). Hence even if the government would formally impose changes, it is risky to believe that those changes will also be effectively implemented.

            Considering this, the most effective way to achieve change for the garment workers seems to be holding each company responsible. One often successful way to do so is by supporting specialised workers’ rights organisations such as the Clean Clothes Campaign.

            The Clean Clothes Campaign is an alliance of NGOs and labour unions which organises international campaigns pressuring retailers and manufacturers to take responsibility and improve their conditions in favour of the garment workers. This is done by offering guidance throughout this process, providing all actors choices and possible ways to change (Clean Clothes Campaign, n.d.). Past successes include the realisation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh. The legally binding agreement established the building of safer factories and working conditions through “strengthen[ing] occupational safety and health, labour inspection services, skills training and rehabilitation services in the long term” (ILO, 2017, “The Bridging Solution” section). Furthermore, the Clean Clothes Campaign ensured the accountability of involved retailers and achieved compensation for the workers and their families (Clean Clothes Campaign, n.d.; Lucchetti, 2015; Rahman & Yadlapalli, 2021).

            The Clean Clothes Campaign is only one example of many NGOs that are on-site and actively involved. There are numerous factors at play that define the work of these organisations, and certainly, NGOs may also be prone to negative influences that affect their work. However, based on past successes like those of the Clean Clothes Campaign, NGOs prove to possess several characteristics that may be advantageous. First and foremost, it was mentioned before that governments often lack willingness and effort to take action. NGOs, on the other hand, are independent of governments and therefore do not rely on the governments’ willingness to act but instead can act more efficiently (Brinkerhoff et al., 2007). On the same note, they often have an incentive for result-oriented work and maintain a strong relationship with the people they work with, to maintain their own legitimacy (Wit & Berner, 2009). Further and perhaps unsurprisingly, the abundance of NGOs that have been founded over the years have led to a certain level of competition over funding, which one could argue also acts as a control mechanism as poor behaviour can easily be exposed by competitors (Aldashev & Verdier, 2009). Lastly, especially NGOs that are on-site may have an advantage over governments, as they are actually involved with the people they work with and can communicate with them (Brinkerhoff et al., 2007). Only through close consultations and communication can effective programs evolve and actions be taken (Brinkerhoff et al., 2007). There are undoubtedly other advantages and disadvantages to the work of NGOs, but it can perhaps be argued that their work is crucial and has led to much improvement over the past. They are an important addition to governments and may even prove to be a more reliable actor as they utilise the combined efforts of multiple actors dedicating their work to the industry, ideally acting as an ally to achieve change without risking garment workers to be held responsible and consequently suffer.