Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Beckett, Greg


This thesis is based on research conducted between the summer and fall of 2021, and it investigates the global garments industry from the perspective of local labour organizers and activists in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the second-largest producer of fast fashion and textile in the world, employing millions of garments workers across the country. Moreover, the long history of industrial disasters, such as the infamous case of the Rana Plaza collapse, make Bangladesh a valuable site for unravelling the layers of exploitation and vulnerability associated with wage labour in the global assembly line. The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse killed over a thousand garments workers and left behind trails of loss and trauma. Given the rise of factory disasters in the garments industry and the timing of this research being situated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this thesis analyzes the challenges facing Bangladeshi garments factory workers and their capacity to collectivize in the industry to claim their rights as citizens. Additionally, the author investigates, how do local activists mobilize the sromik andolon (labour movement) on the ground amidst continued corporate and state-led violence in this neoliberal supply chain? Lastly, the author enquires, why is the localized labour movement essential for Bangladeshi garments workers, and wage workers more generally? Exploring the experience of industrial disasters as key moments for generating new forms of worker activism, this thesis explores how garments workers and local activists develop a nuanced and critical understanding of what the readymade garments industry means for workers in Bangladesh and argues for an ethnographic approach of “listening to the local” as a vital source of understanding the lives of workers and activists.

Summary for Lay Audience

From factory collapses to the continued battle for adequate wages and rights for workers, over the years, the Bangladeshi garments industry has witnessed many shifts and altercations. A few matters became apparent while ‘listening’ to the narratives of local labour organizers who are fighting for workers’ rights on the ground in Bangladesh. Local activists deem the Bangladeshi labour movement as a fundamental tool for mobilizing wage workers’ rights in Bangladesh and across the global garments industry. The intent of this research is to provide a richly detailed, locally driven interpretation of how the garments sector in Bangladesh operates as part of the fast fashion industry. Furthermore, by focusing on the knowledge and experiences of grassroots activists, we not only gain a grounded perspective but also a critically important one, as locals can describe and even theorize how global capitalism takes shape in the apparel supply chain.

Bangladeshi labour activists are aware of the abstract, top-down, and western-centric approaches pursued by global and national players, which challenges their labour movement on the ground. The aim of this research is to pursue a group-up approach and address the various initiatives organized by the local labour organizers who have direct and detailed experience with the Bangladeshi garments sector. The data collected from this research will reveal how informants speak and think about the social, political, ethical, and economical aspects of the fast fashion supply chain and the Bangladeshi garments industry.