Style Opinion | Stay away from ASOS. Protect worker’s rights. Save lives.

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By Billy Stockwell, First Year Geography

The Croft Magazine // In a time when warehouses are being converted into temporary mortuaries in the UK, fast-fashion giants seem to be herding their workers into them like nothing has changed. Should we be changing our online spending habits during the COVID-19 crisis?

'The business we are working in is not essential ... I don’t think somebody needs a bikini' admits one ASOS worker, still expected to make the journey into work every morning. ASOS’s student discount may seem tempting, I know, but with Bristol’s independent clothing scene still thriving online, such as That Thing and Loot Vintage, is the true cost of fast-fashion worth it?

For every 20-something-year-old ready to flaunt their senseless summer purchase in their kitchen, there is a worker forced to flout government guidelines to keep their job.


According to the BBC, ASOS workers in Barnsley, Yorkshire have voiced concerns that social distancing measures are entirely non-existent, with packers working just three feet away from each other. Further, in a survey conducted by GMO union, the majority of ASOS workers said they feel unsafe at work due to the lack of social distancing measures. As would be expected, ASOS 'totally' rejected these claims.

ITV News piece on ASOS worker's fears over COVID-19, released 30th March 2020


The fast-fashion industry has rarely shown servitude to its workers; this much is clear from the treatment of those working in the global South. During this month in 2013, the Dhaka garment factory collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,134 people. A tragedy of no positives, but a real capacity to shake from within the moral conscience of fast-fashion’s oligarchs. However, the lessons learnt from this tragedy, and those alike, appear not to be of guilt, nor reparation, but rather a merciless ability to deny, reject and refute claims of great importance.

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7 years ago today, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed and took the lives of more than 1,100 people and injured another ~2,500. Most of the victims were young women and they were making clothes for some of the biggest fashion brands in the world. In the days and hours that preceded this tragedy, cracks appeared in the building walls and workers expressed their fears. Management told the workers to return to work, even when the retail shops and banks on the ground floor of the complex closed. It wasn’t just managers, but lurking order deadlines and production quotas from powerful corporations that lead to these workers being sent back inside. It was the insatiable fashion industry that forced these garment workers to keep working. And it was the lack of union representation that left these workers powerless to defy orders. These workers, some 5,000 of them, worked in fear. And the clothes they made in fear were shipped around the world, to major retailers and fashion brands, and they were bought by us. Though we’ll never know for sure if we bought and wore the products of their fear, we know that even one t-shirt, pair of jeans or dress made in fear is one too many. There were 29 brands identified in the rubble. It would take years for some of them to pay compensation. For some families, providing DNA evidence to claim that compensation would never be possible. To this day many of the survivors are unemployed and suffer from severe trauma. Fashion Revolution exists to ensure that no tragedy of this magnitude will ever take place again, and we won’t stop until every garment is made in conditions where workers are safe, fairly treated and free from gender-based violence or harassment. Today we think of the true cost of our clothing. We reflect on the tragedy and we use this momentum to forge ahead and create change. Today we encourage you to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes, and demand answers. Photo by rijans via flickr

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On the morning of the 24th April 2013, garment workers in Dhaka – having complained of cracks in the factory walls – begged for safer working conditions. Managers did not comply. Seven years on, these cracks in the structural integrity of the fast-fashion system are again developing. However, with the killer very much invisible this time to the eyes of accountability, there is a growing danger that the death of workers will be unchallenged by fashion consumers. The potential for UK factory workers’ deaths, like those from the global South before, will become just another invisible cost weaved into the fabric of your latest purchase.


However, for millions of workers in the global South who have been fired, or furloughed, due to the closure of Western high-street retailers, the situation is even more complex. More than $2.8 billion worth of orders has already been cancelled or postponed in Bangladesh due to coronavirus. Sadly, the guaranteed economic cost for garment workers due to this will be just as destructive as the potential health costs of coronavirus.

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ASOS Instagram Statement 2nd April 2020


From Barnsley to Bangladesh, many workers have suffered at the hands of fast-fashion, and will, at the hands of coronavirus. However, this is not an inherent character of fashion, but rather a system of worth promoted by capitalist values within our society. As such, while we clap on our doorsteps for Key Workers across the country, we sacrifice the lives of others, forced into their workplaces by our persistent clicking. If anything has epitomised the last few months of coronavirus lockdown, compassion for others will surely be up there. However, this must be international in its reach, omnibenevolent in its character, and self-critical in its disposition for prejudice.

"Global capitalism really is responsible for our inability to address this pandemic." - Angela Davis


I had the privilege of listening to Angela Davis – black American activist - recently on a Zoom session, discussing movement-building in the time of the coronavirus crisis. To conclude this article, I would like to draw attention to her thoughts: 'Global capitalism really is responsible for our inability to address this pandemic.' She confesses. 'However, this crisis also has the ability to bring us out of our Euro-centric slumber.' A daydream for some, a nightmare for others, the anti-capitalist movement sure is waking up.

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