Monday, 8 March 2021
International Women's Day: Statements
I thank the Minister for appearing before the House and for giving us the opportunity to make statements on International Women's Day. Over the past few years, I have grown uncomfortable with the way in which the day is celebrated because for me, the day was borne out of the struggle of the labour movement. In 1911, New York garment workers, mainly immigrants, marched and struck for decent, safe jobs after a fire killed 146 women in this low-paid, exploitative job. Their battle cry was not "lean in", "girl power" or "who runs the world?" but that basic guttural slogan "bread and roses". Today, social media platforms operated by rich tech companies profit from the online abuse of women, giving a platform to fast-fashion companies that profit from the sweat and labour of poor women, and offer discount codes to women in the name of girl power and female empowerment based on a notion that they come through purchasing power.For me, International Women's Day is not a day about women in leadership or the corporate board, but it is a very real basic fight for safe working conditions and equality. That is its historical context.
This morning, fast fashion companies all over the world posted messages for International Women's Day, but how does their lip service to International Women's Day stack up? This year, Boohoo.com was exposed by The Sunday Timesfor poor pay and working conditions at its UK factories. It paid an undercover reporter as little as £3.50 per hour. Many people turned to Amazon during the pandemic, but we know its workers are under so much pressure to make Jeff Bezos richer that they are not allowed to take toilet breaks. More than a century after New York garment workers died in a devastating fire, 1,134 women died when a factory in Bangladesh collapsed. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, garment workers in countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh and India work 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. That adds up to 96 hours per week. They work in conditions where they breathe in toxic substances and accidents and fires are frequent. Worldwide, 168 million children work in the fast fashion industry, earning as little as 22 p per day to satisfy our insatiable demand for girl boss clothing.
This International Women's Day, which is my first as a Member of this House, I want to remember the origins of the day. I stand in solidarity with the women who are in service to the fast fashion consumer industry from which we consume. The fight for bread and roses and the historical context of this day goes on through the fight for good quality jobs and workers' rights.