No Sweat, the anti-sweatshop campaign and wholesale supplier of ethical garments, has added a new line of T-shirts from a fully unionised factory in Bangladesh.

It has taken on a second supplier that is a factory where all the workers belong to a union that is part of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation (BGIWF).

This means the next shipment of No Sweat T-shirts, due in August, will carry the label “Union-Made”. The initial run is short-sleeve tees in black or white, in lightweight and heavyweight styles and sizes XS to 5XL. They are made of GOTS-certified organic cotton.

No Sweat supplies blank organic T-shirts, as well as hoodies and tote bags, that are ethically made by people who earn a living wage and have democratic control over their work. It uses profits from sales to support the fight for workers’ rights in countries where clothing is manufactured.

Jay Kerr, No Sweat campaigner and lead on its T-Shirt Project, said: “We want our T-shirts to be an example of best practice in the industry. While we work to highlight the things that are wrong in the garment industry in our campaign work, we show what is possible through our T-shirts, and that includes trade unions.

“No Sweat has always argued that the only way that we can truly end the exploitation in the garment industry is by having stronger unions.

No Sweat union made T-shirts

“Trade unions are important as they equalise the playing field in the workplace. Owners, managers, and buyers – meaning the large brands who order the clothes from factories – have inherent power: economic power, decision-making power, and sadly, in far too many instances, coercive power.

“Garment workers, by contrast, do not have any power as individuals. The only power they have is as a collective. Together they have the power to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment, and collectively halt their labour if decent terms and conditions are not offered.

“This is a very basic interpretation of what a trade union does, but in countries in the global south, where workers are at the very bottom of the social ladder, it’s potential is huge.

“However, trade unions need to be independent from the factory management, otherwise the potential for coercive power remains.

“This is why many unions inside garment factories join up with other trade unions through federations like the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation (BGIWF) because it provides a support network outside of the individual factory that workers can rely on when negotiating their conditions.

“We should never trust a factory owner or brand that says our workers don’t need a union. Even the nicest employers and the brands with the best codes of conduct need workers with independent union representation to remove the potential for exploitation.

“And, it is not enough to say our workers have the right to join or not join a union. While this may seem logical, in an industry so rife with exploitation and exposed to corruption by powerful people, not having an independent trade union leaves workers more vulnerable to the worst and most dangerous aspects of the industry.

“We are proud to say that our T-shirts are union-made and we are proud that our T-shirt project is making an active difference in the workers struggle for better conditions in the garment industry.”

Over the past few years, money raised from No Sweat T-shirts has gone to the campaign’s Garment Workers Solidarity Fund and sent to help workers in Bangladesh during the Covid lockdowns of 2020.

Funds have also been sent to trade unions in Myanmar that have operated underground since they were outlawed by the military after the coup in February 2021 and to support garment workers in Haiti protesting for a $15 a day minimum wage while making T-shirts for some of the biggest brands in the world.

Welcoming the introduction of No Sweat’s union-made T-shirts, BGIWF president Kalpona Atker said: “It is a low-wage, long-shifting hours and hostile working environment where workers work every day. The way out is to have negotiating power in the factory.

“A democratic, registered union gives workers that negotiating power where workers can bargain with their respective factory managements to improve the working condition and a better livelihood.

“Union-made T-shirts are far better as these tells us that workers voice are respected.”

No Sweat union made T-shirts