Fair Trade and Sustainability Award Winner 2022

As a boy, Muhammad Azizul Islam witnessed the tough life faced by the garment workers of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He made it his life’s work to bring change. Now, Prof Islam’s work (research, teaching and campaigning) is raising awareness for Fair Trade by giving a voice to the unheard valuable garment workers of Bangladesh and other nations. These workers underpin a global trade that benefits the global north, but is exploitative of the global south. The team led by Prof Islam shone a light at the bottom of the supply chain and probed corporate responsibility to give a voice to the unheard. Face-to-face interviews delved into the lived experience of Bangladeshi female garment workers during the covid pandemic. Unethical corporate practices (cancellation of contracts, paying reduced prices and changing lead times) and ineffective legal protections were uncovered, and many workers already in precarious situations, went unpaid or lost jobs—unable to feed their families. Those retaining work risked covid—and had greater workload for less money along with abuses and gender violence. Together with academic, NGO and policy partners, the team are enabling policy change to ensure that profits are not made at the expense of people.

By proactively engaging NGOs, Prof Islam’s research provides the evidence base to underpin traction in campaigning and lobbying. On June 15th 2022, in a parliamentary drop-in session at Westminster with NGO Transform Trade (formerly Traidcraft Exchange), hosted by Liz Twist MP and Peter Aldous MP, researchers (Prof Islam and Dr Shamima Haque) took questions from MPs on their research about the experiences of garment workers in Bangladesh. Islam and Haque shared the research findings and the research recommendation to instate a UK Fashion Watchdog https://twitter.com/traidcraftexch/status/1537062636348661766

Soon after, Liz Twist MP introduced a Private Members Bill (along with 8 other MPs in support) in the House of Commons on July 13th 2022, which was accepted and awaits the second reading in November. The Hansard transcript on the Bill – Fashion Supply Chain (Code and Adjudicator) https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-07-13/debates/86436DD6-DABD-401C-B150-7F8B8533A05B/FashionSupplyChain(CodeAndAdjudicator)  describes the impacts for Bangladeshi garment workers revealed from this project. This evidence base provides solid grounds for introduction of the Bill for a Fashion Watchdog to regulate the supply chain and abolish exploitation of garment workers in the global South. https://www.abdn.ac.uk/business/news/16188/

The Sunday Post article (Aug 7th, 2022) described the research: From bad to worse in fast fashion’s global sweatshop (sundaypost.com).

University of Aberdeen host the project webpage to share developments with the wider community: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/business/research/modern-slavery-transparency-and-accountability-project-737.php  and the team work with Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) who support and share the work: https://modernslaverypec.org/research-projects/preventing-exploitation-of-women-in-bangladesh-garment-industry. By partnering with NGOs, such as Transform Trade (formerly Traidcraft Exchange), the research is enabled for impact. Other NGOs the team work with include: War on Want; Labour Behind the Label; Clean Clothes Campaign; Fashion Roundtable; and No Sweat with whom Prof Islam joined a panel discussion on the eight anniversary of Rana Plaza disaster: https://twitter.com/No_Sweat/status/1387098964831481864

Prof Islam was a panellist in the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, Feb 2022 organised by Fair Trade Advocacy office (Brussels) https://twitter.com/FairTradeFTAO/status/1495693063414550529 to stop unfair global trading practices. Their Dhaka collaborator, Sociology Professor Salma Akter, ran a press conference attended by Bangladesh Minster for Planning, who fed back on our research findings. Through BRAC University, the team connect with garment industry leaders in Bangladesh to maximise their impact overseas.