PhD research

(2019) Fashioning labour rights? Understanding the efforts of transnational stakeholders in the responsible fashion and apparel (RFA) movement post-Rana Plaza, Bangladesh


In the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, transnational stakeholders and stakeholder groups working within the global movement for responsible fashion and apparel (RFA) mobilised in extraordinary ways, developing and implementing a spectrum of strategies and actions aimed at supporting garment worker safety in Bangladesh. While some focused on building infrastructure, lobbying companies and governments to improve workplace standards through policy and legislation in the country, others sought to improve voluntary corporate standards. These stakeholders make up part of a global movement of individuals and organisations engaged in efforts which aim to both challenge and disrupt conventional systems of fashion and apparel production and consumption with respect to social and environmental issues.

Long before Rana Plaza collapsed, transnational stakeholders engaged in efforts directed at improving labour conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh. In this thesis, I examine how RFA movement stakeholders mobilised post-Rana Plaza and consider how fashion was leveraged across the movement as a tool to support the labour rights of garment workers in Bangladesh. Findings stem from data gathered through 42 qualitative interviews conducted with elite RFA movement stakeholders based in Bangladesh, Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as a website analysis of the UK-based pro-fashion’ transnational project Fashion Revolution (FashRev), which operates as an analytic entry point into the wider RFA movement. Captured within the thesis are the views of artists, activists, corporate social responsibility advisors, designers, educators, government officials, and key individuals working at local and international organisations, all connected to fashionrelated efforts aimed at supporting labour rights in Bangladesh. By separating research participants into four distinct categories (fashion-based, labour rights organisation-based, industry-based and other-related stakeholders), differences and similarities between stakeholder groups emerge.

Within this thesis I show how RFA movement stakeholders, despite working in diverse and divergent capacities, share a theory of change regarding aspirations to support labour rights. The thesis also reveals that across the movement, stakeholders leverage similar tools to achieve their aims. Operating within an information provision reform pathway, research participants understood knowledge exchange and resource sharing as central in their efforts to better support garment workers. Calling for reform through voluntary and legislative means, stakeholders leveraged fashion, strategic partnerships, and digital technologies to assist them in their endeavours. Responding to the collapse, the majority of transnational efforts mimicked previous strategies and tactics. The thesis reveals that there is more nuance to efforts at work within the movement, as some stakeholders engaged with fashion as a tool for disruption to challenge conventional understandings related to fashion and apparel production and consumption under the logic of capitalism.

PhD Supervision: Professor Roger Jeffery & Dr Kanchana Ruwanpura

PhD Examiners:  Professor John Harriss (Emeritus) International Studies, SFU & Dr Angus Bancroft, The University of Edinburgh