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Fast fashion’s textile workers protest for basic rights and pay

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A peaceful demonstration descended into police violence outside the Denim Clothing Company in Karachi, Pakistan

Garment workers in Karachi, Pakistan are protesting outside the Denim Clothing Company, which produces apparel for fast fashion brands. In a video uploaded to Twitter, labour and human rights journalist Fawad Hazan filmed the crowd holding banners and chanting for minimum wage, social security, and other basic rights, with a further clip purporting to capture the moment that plain clothes officers started to baton charge, beat, and abduct 35 of the protesting employees. 

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Standing with the factory workforce, Hazan sheds light on the alleged gross and exploitative practices of the Denim Clothing Company, which supplies H&M, Zara, and Levi’s. “These factories are literally jails!,” he Tweeted this morning, uploading pictures of the compound. “You see their structure, the barbed wires, the grills, armed-to-the-teeth guards, iron gates (which btw get closed when fire incidents happen so that workers ‘don’t steal the products’), and it all seems like a prison!” Among those taken into police custody was Yaseen Jhullan from the Sindh Renaissance Labour Federation, who had previouly assured area officials that today’s demonstration was peaceful. Another video shows a police car parked and poised within the firm’s “jail-like infrastructure”.

A similar protest gathered traction in May earlier this year when workers, fearing they would not be paid an Eid bonus, congregated in front of the gates of the Denim Clothing Company, before being promised payment. The following day, the commuter vans which had previously taken staff members to and from work were suspended, while entry cards were cancelled, and doors to the factory were locked. Hundreds came together outside as management officials and police inspectors fired bullets into the crowd, injuring demonstrators. 24 hours later and the Denim Clothing Company had filed a case against eight hundred of its workers, who were only released from custody after trade unionists intervened. 

Yet this is merely one factory, in one province, in one country. Garment workers suffer routine exploitation at the hands of fashion brands throughout the world. There are, of course, many cogs in the supply chain, but these labels are facing a moment of reckoning, with many leaning into a strategy of distraction to stave off criticism. See Boohoo’s factory walking tours or Shein’s reality TV series, for example. While workers are vying for more union representation in a bid to have their humanity acknowledged, fashion brands can no longer shift responsibility onto suppliers, and must recognise their role in global human rights disasters.