Category Archives: Forced 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 // 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.

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.

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.

Anti-Slavery International targets European Parliament through Cotton Crimes campaign

Anti-Slavery International has recently relaunched their Cotton Crimes campaign with a new video.

It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)

Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.

Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.

Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:

LEARN // Social Alterations / A Closer Look / Uzbekistan

LEARN // We Day introduces new teacher resources for pre-16 learners

Just in time for the new school year, Free the Children has launched an updated We Day website, showcasing their lesson plans for elementary and secondary school educators and learners.

Topics include the Millennium Development Goals, children’s rights, clean water, hunger, education and community mapping, among others.

This is what it’s all about—empowering educators to empower learners. Although the lessons and activities are not published through the Creative Commons, they are downloadable for free in PDF.

Here are some videos on child labour and globalization, presented by Dr. Jonathan White, Professor of Sociology and Political Economy at Bridgewater State University:

Will your students be participating in We Day this year? If not, these lessons will surely inspire them to want to get involved.

Bangladeshi garment workers denied rights, War on Want reports

War on Want has published a new report outlining current conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh—Stitched Up: Women workers in the Bangladeshi garment sector.

Of the many issues addressed in this report, the research outlines the true impact of short lead times, explaining how wages earned can depend on whether or not a worker meets production deadlines. It also showcases certain worker rights that have been denied as a result of an absent rule of law.

The research conducted for this report reveals that women in the garment sector have been systematically denied their rights to maternity leave under Bangladeshi law.” (Stitched Up: pg 8 )

The report investigated 41 garment factories (there are an estimated 4,825 garment factories in Bangladesh) and interviewed nearly 1000 workers (there are an estimated 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh) (Stitched Up: pg 2). 86% of the mostly women interviewed (988/1000) were between the ages of 18-31 (Stitched Up: pg 2).

Head on over to War on Want to read the report and to learn more.

Advocates for child rights in India compromised — BBC apologises

You may recall the BBC One documentary “Panorama: Primark – On the Rack” (June 2008) that, allegedly, uncovered Primark subcontractors exploiting children in India for cheap labour.

Well, if you’ve been following the latest in the BBC/Panorama/Primark scandal, you’ve likely heard the news this month that footage from the BBC report is now said to have been fraudulent.

According to the BBC Trust, “Primark complained about the programme to the BBC Executive and then appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust (“the Committee”) against the decision of the BBC Executive’s Editorial Complaints Unit (“the ECU”).”

The Committee determined that Dan McDougall’s reporting was, essentially, staged; “the Committee concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it was more likely than not that the Bangalore footage was not authentic.”

UK Guardian reporter James Robinson writes “[t]he decision by the trust is understood to have infuriated BBC News staff, who privately say that the Primark case has demonstrated that the corporation’s complaints procedure is flawed.”

What did McDougall have to say on the Committee’s findings? McDougall claims to “have rarely seen a finding so unjust in outcome, flawed in process, and deeply damaging to investigative journalism.”

It’s important to remember that the reporting in question was the footage from Bangalore alone, and that there was other footage within the documentary depicting work done by children and homeworkers:

  • 23 February – In a refugee camp on the outskirts of Tirupur, the Journalist films two children working on the Complainant’s garments.
  • 24 February – In Pollachi, the Journalist finds the Complainant’s sequinned vest tops outsourced to home workers.

(Source: Finding of the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust:  Pg. 15)

And so, in the end, the BBC says it will apologize to Primark for claiming the company was guilty of using child labour in India….when the company is allegedly guilty of using child labour in India? Right.

Well, at least we know the Indian Government will be happy; a recent post by Clothesource Comments breaks down the true impact a scandal like this has in the Indian context quite poignantly, claiming the incident has crippled the tireless efforts of organizations working to eradicate child labour within the country.

Be sure to keep your eye on this story—only time will tell how it all will play out.

Kalpona Akter calls on Wal-Mart shareholders to stand-up for garment workers internationally

This past Friday, Kalpona Akter, of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), addressed Wal-Mart shareholders at their annual meeting to present the NYC Pension Funds’ shareholder proposal for Wal-Mart Supplier Human and Workers’ Rights Reporting, with the support of New York City Comptroller John C. Liu.

You can listen in on her empowered speech here (you’ll have to move ahead in the video—she addresses the shareholders from 2:14:30 – 2:19:22). You can also hear from Akter in a recent interview on Free Speech Radio News.

As we have reported, Akter is facing a potential life sentence, even possibly the death penalty, on what she says are fabricated charges from an alleged Wal-Mart subcontractor, among others.

Why is Wal-Mart such a big player to have on board in the struggle for decent work in Bangladesh? According to Akter, 12-15% of garments made in the country are produced for Wal-Mart. What’s more, of the 11 cases filed against labour activists as a result of the large-scale protests last year, 4 have allegedly come from a Wal-Mart subcontractor.

The New York Times reports that the Pension Funds’ shareholder “proposal states that there is a ‘significant gap between general policies against labor and human rights abuse and more detailed standards and enforcement mechanisms required to carry them out.’

It asks vendors to publish yearly reports that ‘include the supplier’s objective assessments and measurements of performance on workplace safety, and human and worker rights, using internationally recognized standards, indicators and measurement protocols.’ (New York Times)

Wal-Mart’s initial response claimed that such a policy would threaten access to certain products, acknowledging the difficulty in convincing their suppliers to get on board. “The company contends that even if it could enforce such a plan, to do so might threaten the availability of certain products from those who did not comply.” (New York Times)

Interactive lesson plans educate learners on responsible fashion

The Creative Commons is embedded into our responsible education ethos; we have researched and aggregated content to create educational resources because we believe that accessibility leads to accountability. Of course knowledge is power, but without access to knowledge we will not move forward.

In 2009 we brought you “[Lesson 1] Sifting through the ‘Ecofashion’ Lexicon” and our “Fibre Analysis”. In 2010 we worked further to bringing you lessons on the social, cultural, economic and environmental interdisciplinary challenges facing the value system that is the global apparel supply chain.

Social Alterations 2010 //

[Lesson 4] Corporate Social Responsibility

[Lesson 3] Global Governance and the Corporation

[Lesson 2] Connect // Key Players

[Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing (pre-16 learners)

Social Alterations 2009 //


[Lesson 1] Sifting through the ‘Ecofashion’ Lexicon

Fibre Analysis

Check out this how to on navigating our site:

Social Alterations 2010 // Program Guide from Social Alterations on Vimeo.