Revolution and dissent have taken a digitalised form. In the year 2020, revolutions are not restricted to the streets. Tweets and hashtags fill our feeds and tell us real-time news than actual newspapers. The power of social media is limitless. You may think what a single tweet or solidarity statement may do? However, that one tweet or statement multiple in numbers in seconds and bring attention to the cause at hand. With the institutionalised murder of George Floyd in the United States, individuals and groups filled social media with rage and condemnation. This brought the much-needed attention to the problem of racism which still exists in the developed States. The police department was held accountable and brought about international protests and demonstrations towards the ‘Black Lives Matter’. This even led to more grave cases of sheer racism being showcased in the public eye.
Nonetheless, social media has its dark side too. It is often debated that social media does more harm than good. It might be marginally true. While social media plays a significant role as a medium of dissent or catalyst in mobilizing opinions, it has led to the endangerment of lives. With anyone having a free hand to post whatever they like, negativity flows left, right and centre. Abuses and threats are hurled at when there is disagreement or difference. People are shamed, ridiculed and hated on for their ‘online’ presence. Hate speeches and bullying are common to the extent that they are on the verge of normalization which shouldn’t be the case.
#PayUp started trending back in March-April which followed apprehension. On the afternoon of March 25, 2020, the 2,000 garment workers at Denim Expert Ltd. in Dhaka, Bangladesh turned off their sewing machines and collected their possessions. A nervous ripple flowed down the sewing lines. Some people were crying. A few young women, dressed in flowing saris, gathered together for a few selfies hoping that the brands they sew clothes for would see these pictures, see their faces, and save their lives.
Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim expressed his grief online. “I reached out to a few buyers and then discovered another harsh reality. I need to take no objection clearance from the buyer, who cancelled the goods unethically, to be able to sell it to another buyer, and I would get the permission if I can replace the buttons, rivets, zippers, etc.” Denim Expert makes jeans for various top fast fashion brands owned by big corporations of the United States and the United Kingdom like Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Peacocks. Since March, apparel companies have used the phrase “cancelled orders” to gaslight the public about how they operate. To cancel an order means nullifying an entire order which amounts to NO payment which leaves a lot of money and livelihoods at stake.
A video from Bangladesh broke out where workers were pleading for payment. Remake, a conscious community of fashion enthusiast individuals headed by Ayesha Barenblat started the #PayUp for workers to get their equal dues. Social media influencer, Nabela Noor took to Instagram and expressed her anger. She called out the big brands using her influence in the correct manner. HM, GAP, Kendall and Kylie, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West are amongst the top brands under fire. It is disheartening to see public figures in a place of privilege resorting to cheap tactics.
Nabela quoted, “That cute top you for a great bargain was made by an unpaid/underpaid worker in Bangladesh who needs YOU to care enough for their humanity to demand, fair pay, safe conditions, justice and equality. #PAYUP”
This brings us back to the idea of fast fashion; a business tactic which is exploitative in nature. The use of cheap material and labour has led to large scale problems. The trendy t-shirt from HM is a result of a mass production which is unfit for the environment and unfair to the workers. The factory system of these fast fashion brands is a reminder of a certain colonial and feudal systems which existed years ago showing the same poor working conditions.
These brands and people have to be held responsible. The excuse of the pandemic and cost-cutting has lead to loss of livelihood and displacement. Despite zero sales, there should be some compensation and plan for the workers behind the scenes.