Category Archives: Labour

Interview // Artist and activist Robin Pacific, TakeActionFAST campaign

As we mark the 106th anniversary of Triangle (25 March 1911), I wanted to share the work of Canadian artist and activist Robin Pacific. Since 2013 she has been working on a community project to raise awareness on the realities of work and life for garment workers in Bangladesh. In May she is launching TakeActionFAST, a labour rights campaign she has organised with partners in Bangladesh and in Canada (details below).

I first heard of Robin’s work when I was in Dhaka conducting part of my fieldwork in 2015. Recently I was lucky to connect with her and learn a bit more about her work.

Mary Hanlon:  To get started, could you tell us a bit about the F.A.S.T. campaign and how it came about?

Robin Pacific: We are now calling it TakeActionFAST (because the Heart and Stroke Foundation launched their own FAST campaign – cheeky!). In 2013 I received some funds from the Ontario Arts Council to do research on possible art projects about who makes our clothes. I turned the research into a collaborative community project and invited 30 women in groups of three to my house. I cooked for them, and gave a 10 minute talk about art, fashion, globalization, free trade and workers’ rights. Then the conversation just flowed. It was at one of these gatherings that someone came up with the idea for a logo called FAST – FAIR living wage, ADULT labour only, SAFE working conditions and No unpaid overTIME.

The idea for a campaign to tell retailers we will pay 5% more for our clothes if those conditions are met evolved over time and went through many variations. The necessity that I must go to Bangladesh if I wanted to speak on behalf of garment workers there also came about during those dinners.

MH: You’ve partnered with various sponsors and supporters. How did these partnerships come about, and how important was it for you to connect with groups in Bangladesh?

RP: This whole project has been about never giving up, and just relentlessly continuing even when it seemed there was no support. So I just kept e mailing people I heard about in Bangladesh, and at UniGlobal, and various Canadian trade unions. When they didn’t answer I emailed them again. When they still didn’t answer, I phoned them! Eventually the first trip came together. We made art with 100 garment workers represented by The Solidarity Centre/Bangladesh led by Alonzo Suson and Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Centre led by Kalpona Akter. We were very, very lucky to work with these outstanding trade unions. It was inspiring and transformative to meet young women who were risking their jobs—and sometimes their lives—to form a union.

If we hadn’t had the support of these two groups I think our visit to Dhaka would have been more or less futile.

We also were very graciously hosted at a luncheon by then Canadian High Commissioner Heather Cruden, and one of her staff suggested we connect with some survivors of Rana Plaza. This too was a profound experience, and humbling – meeting these people whose bodies and psyches were so shattered.

While in Bangladesh and after, I kept meeting artists, individuals, trade union members, members of NGOs, and I also go a little connected to the Bangladeshi community here in Toronto. All of these connections have immeasurably enriched the work I’ve done.

MH: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?

RP: The biggest challenge I’ve faced, in a way, has been my own despair at all those points when things weren’t working out, when it seemed things would never come together. My challenge is not to take it personally and get discouraged when people aren’t interested, or reject various proposals for exhibitions, etc.

MH: As you move forward, what keeps you inspired? What scares you?

RP: What keeps me inspired is the heroism of the young women and men I met, and also the fact that I fell in love with Bangladesh, the way one does, inadvertently, with the people, the culture, even the insane traffic. I’m committed to social justice, and taking on this one issue and really working on it exclusively has kept me inspired. Also, I did put this on a long timeline. I wanted to accomplish one thing – the TakeActionFAST petition. Along the way I got to do some fun and meaningful art projects and meet so many extraordinary people.

The issue is off the radar of the media completely. This is what I call the Politics of the Aftermath. The media lurches from one disaster to the next, disaster porn as it’s been called, and no one seems to think of the long term after effects on the survivors of these horrific crises. I’m really counting on millennials to pick up the torch. I’m afraid that I’m just too much of an outlier – an artist trying to create a social justice campaign, not really encouraged by the local art world here, and a social justice activist who is an artist, so viewed skeptically, on occasion, by trade union people and activists, because I’m working alone. Everything I’m doing is hope and prayers that I can bridge these two complex communities.


If you’d like to support Robin and the campaign project, or learn more about her work and this community project, check out the project website here.

I particularly enjoyed seeing project photographs and listening to the audio recordings from interviews with workers, here.

While the campaign is live now, there will be a launch in Toronto in May. Here are the event details:

When? May 4 – May 5, 2017, 7 PM-12AM

Where? The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. West, Toronto M6J 1H3 (at Dovercourt)


  • Online action campaign;
  • Canadian and Bangladesh bands, singers, dancers and food;
  • a pop up fashion market of indie Canadian designers;
  • a ‘Mock Sweatshop’ where participants can sew giant t-shirts with garment workers from Workers United Canada;
  • a Rana Plaza Memorial;
  • and art by and about Bangladeshi garment workers

WATCH // Media Theorised: Reading against the grain


What role does advertising play in journalism? Who funds and controls media coverage? Why is representation so important? How are stereotypes produced and reproduced through the media? Does the medium that we use consume information matter?

And, what does any of this have to do with responsible fashion?

The Listening Post has produced a series of short animated films introducing five media theorists: Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Marshall McLuhan, and Edward Said. Media Theorised is a project that calls for a critical engagement with the media, and is a nice resource to share with friends, colleagues and students.

Many of the entanglements highlighted by these theorists are brought to the surface through the project itself, with respect to how it is shared and consumed, and all of these tensions would make great topics for further discussion: for example, the fact that I am sharing this content with you through a blog post on an English-language website; that the Media Theorized project was itself developed by a media network (Al Jazeera), and that each video has little Google advertisements that pop-up, and sometimes play before the video starts—a  reminder of the role of advertising in media (briefly mentioned in the Noam Chomsky piece); or the fact that you may have found this post through social media, and may be reading this content on a tablet, phone or laptop.

A couple of years ago I briefly shared some thoughts on how one of these tensions plays out in media stories related to labour rights for IANS: sponsored content surrounding responsible fashion, where the lines between corporate interests, corporate social responsibility, and critical journalism (or even bad journalism, for that matter) become blurred. Although I was picking on The Guardian at that time, the takeaway was that a critical lens is needed when reading any and all media coverage related to these issues (including coverage produced on this site).

I hope you’ll find these resources relevant and interesting. I’ve embedded a couple of the animations below. Each film comes with an essay and a downloadable poster – who doesn’t love a good poster?

LEARN // Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada


With International Women’s Day around the corner, I just had to share this excellent resource with you: Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada, a project organised by Linda Briskin, Sue Genge, Marg McPhail and Marion Pollack.

From the project website:

“This project on Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada explores the current climate and attitudes to women, feminism, leadership and equality in Canadian unions through the insights, voices and experiences of women union leaders, activists and staff in Canadian unions.

Undoubtedly unions in Canada have played a significant role in promoting women’s equality. And many share the optimistic belief that organized labour can continue to play a critical part in challenging women’s inequality. Yet evidence suggests that equality issues have still not moved into the mainstream of union culture. Some even point to a backlash, suggested by the decline in women’s participation in leadership, fewer resources for equality organizing, and in some cases, outright attacks on advocates. These are disturbing trends.

Union women fought hard for equity gains over the past five decades.  In the current climate of recession, cutbacks, and austerity, are we now losing ground?”


There are links to loads of resources, including this important short film, originally produced in 1981 by Linda Briskin and Lorna Weir – a wonderful historical resource for teaching.

While the project relates specifically to the labour rights movement in Canada, it is completely relevant to union and labour organising globally.

Image source: Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada

On the importance of birth certificates in Bangladesh

A screenshot of one of the stop motion animations in 'My Birth Certificate!'

A screenshot of one of the stop motion animations in ‘My Birth Certificate!’

Birth certificates in Bangladesh. A crucial issue, not often discussed.

In the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse, media, research, company and campaign attention in/on Bangladesh has typically focused on such issues as disaster relief and compensation, building and worker safety, wages and trade unionism, etc.—all issues we know are important to labour rights (and not only in Bangladesh).

It’s time to add the importance of birth certificates to that long list.

My Birth Certificate! is stop motion animations made (written, produced, directed) by children in Bangladesh. It is the result of a collaboration between Rainbow Collective, Alex Nobel (EMG Initiative), TRAID, ChildHope UK and Nagorik Uddyog in Bangladesh.

Check it out:

WATCH // Modern Slavery: Are we complicit?

photo (5)


Earlier this month I was invited to participate in a panel on modern slavery at the University of Edinburgh, organised by the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

The panel addressed a lot of issues, including the (potential) impact of consumer boycotts and buycotts. I called on consumers to remember they are more than consumers, and to also consider/imagine alternative ways to support workers.

The event was recorded, and I’ve embedded it below for you to check out.

During the discussion, I mentioned a website I had used to calculate ‘how many slaves’ work for me. I mentioned this was an interesting tool to help consumers think through linkages, but also voiced concern that context was lacking. I realise that I never mentioned the actual name of the site, so in case you’re interested and not already familiar, here it is. Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter shared some thoughts on this tool with Design and Violence last year, here.

On the panel with me was Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Karen Bowman, Director of Procurement at University of Edinburgh and Mei-Ling McNamara, a PhD Student in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at University of Edinburgh. Chairing was Michelle Brown from the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

We would love to hear your thoughts on modern slavery in general, but also in the unique context of the global fashion and apparel industry. Please share in the comments, or with us on Facebook or Twitter.

WATCH // Udita (Arise): a film on garment making in Bangladesh


Udita Poster


On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers were killed and thousands more were left injured. These workers were producing garments for consumers in Europe and North America.

We have now marked the two year anniversary of the collapse, yet the ILO trust fund established to support victims and their families remains nearly 3 million dollars short.

Rana Plaza was not the first industrial accident of its kind in Bangladesh, and building (and fire) safety is not the only challenge faced by garment workers.

Udita, the latest documentary from The Rainbow Collective, brings together footage capturing garment work in Bangladesh, collected over a five year period.

The Rainbow Collective premiered the film in East London at the Unite The Union Community Centre to a packed house on 24 April, marking the 2nd anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse.

Udita Trailer (full documentary below):


Udita asks its audience to listen to the testimonies of workers and organisers. No simple solution is presented. No judgements are passed. Viewers are left to draw their own connections.

Thanks to The Rainbow Collective for making Udita free and accessible.

Please watch and share through your networks.

Udita (full documentary):

Note: This blog post was also published on Routes blog, with permission. 

LEARN // The WellMade Project

WellMade - Facebook banner image


A three year project that began in 2013, WellMade provides free online resources designed to help brands better support labour rights in their supply chains.

The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is lead partner on the initiative, working collaboratively with other partners and associates.


There are currently four specific case studies to assist brands:

(1) “You know those pants we ordered? We need them in a different color!”

(2) “I’m visiting a factory but I’m not a CSR specialist. What can I do to help?”

(3) “We have found labour problems in one of our factories. What should we do?”

(4) “Subcontracting: How can this small group of workers produce so many t-shirts?”

If you’re in Paris, you can catch the project for a free workshop tomorrow (10 Feb) at Texworld.

Follow WellMade on Facebook and Twitter for updates on resources, as well as future workshops and events.

Garment worker wages: select reports on trends and analysis from 2014

ILO 201415 Global Wage Report


The International Labour Organization (ILO) has just released their 2014/2015 Global Wage Report. While the report is not specifically focused on garment worker wages in fashion and apparel systems, it does overview global trends and highlights wage gaps, and I think it’s a good one to read through and bookmark to keep on hand.

With the report, the ILO has included a couple of short video clips explaining key terms, such as real wage and labour productivity, average wage and PPP$.

ILO videos re 201415 Wage Report

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) published three reports in 2014 relating to wages for garment work in the fashion and apparel sector:

Living wage in asiaStitched up 2014

Tailored Wages 2014

And of course, this worthwhile read from the CCC and the Asia Floor Wage in 2009 remains highly relevant: Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders.

Stitching a decent wage across borders










Click here for the full list of CCC publications.

What resources have you turned to in 2014 for trends and analysis relating to garment worker wages? Share in the comments below, or let us know via Facebook and/or Twitter.


POLL // Child labour in the fashion supply chain

Child Labour

(Update: The video embedded below is seemingly no longer available to view online. The video depicted a number of children working in India, sewing clothing for the H&M and Alexander Wang collection at machines in a factory. At the end of the video, one boy declared how happy he was to work on this line. To be clear, the video was not real, it was a spoof.)

Have you seen this satire on the H&M x Alexander Wang collaboration?

fairtradefashion from Peter Schwarm on Vimeo.

The spoof, produced by Dandy Diary and filmed in Mumbai, was meant to connect Alexander Wang’s reported association with garment worker grievances to Dandy Diary’s perception of manufacturing practices in H&M global supply chains. In 2012, Wang was sued by former employees claiming to have worked 80 hour weeks without overtime pay, in a garment factory in New York.

We are interested in your thoughts on child labour * in fashion and apparel production, to assess your need/want for related educational resources.

For this reason, we’d be grateful if you would consider completing this short poll:

*For the purpose of this survey, ‘child labour’ is defined in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition:


“work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. 

It refers to work that:

We strongly urge you to click here for more information on child labour from the ILO.

Update // Cambodian garment workers battle for wage hike

A worker’s sign demanding $160/month minimum wages | Image taken at a rally by Mu Sochua, a Cambodian opposition party MP [click the photo to go to her blog].

Last week, Mary reported on the violent protests in Cambodia which included garment workers who have been demonstrating against a proposed minimum wage increase to US$100/month. The workers have asked for US$160/month which still falls short of the living wage proposed by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance [see the report entitled Latest Asia Floor Wage figure in Local Country Currencies (2012)] of KHR 1178814.60/month which is equivalent to something between US$283-294/month, depending on the exchange rate.

It is important to add that these demonstrations are not limited to wage issues. As I wrote on January 4th on the SA facebook page:

“Keep in mind that this is not just about wages but also stems from a complicated alliance between the numerous unions & the opposition party to challenge Hun Sen’s 28-year rule. This is part of an ongoing movement kickstarted by the July 2013 election which the opposition believes was rigged. They have since boycotted parliament, calling for new elections in daily rallies in Phnom Penh. And in the middle of all this politics is the fashion supply chain.

For a bit more on the background to these protests, listen to the following conversation from the CBC’s As it happens (Jan. 3rd):

Here are some updates specific to the garment industry angle of this story:

  • The protests continued over the week culminating in 5 deaths and around 40 injuries when authorities opened fire. Meanwhile, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) estimates sales losses of US$200 million and project a 30 per cent drop in orders in 2014 due to the protests. GMAC, in a press conference, condoned the military police’s reaction to protesters, and blamed striking workers for all deaths which were described as “collateral damage”.
  • Today’s news reports (see also here) confirm that the protests are suspended (for now) as unions advised workers to go back to work. Union leaders plan a meeting to regroup and rethink their protest strategy.
  • uploaded an open letter from some brands to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the Council of the Ministers, the Chairman of GMAC and union leaders calling for a peaceful resolution of this conflict and expressing deep concern over the violence writing further that “[o]ur primary concerns are for the security and safety of the workers employed by our suppliers and the long-term stability of the Cambodian garment industry.” The brands added “[w]e believe that the only way to resolve this dispute is to cease all forms of violence, and for stakeholders to enter into good faith negotiations, allowing workers to safely return to work without fear of repercussions as soon as possible.” Kudos to the signatory brands: H&M, Gap Inc., Inditex, Adidas Group, Puma, Levi Strauss & Co., and Columbia.
  • Finally, to add an international political economy dimension to these protests, there is a report (see also here) that details the South Korean embassy’s involvement in back channel dealings pressing the Cambodian government to protect Korean interests. South Korea was the largest investor in Cambodia in 2012.

This story is ongoing and we’ll do our best to continue the updates on a regular basis. In the meantime, keep up with events over our Fb page and our twitter feed.