Understand Banana Republics and Fast Fashion
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “banana republic” is “a small dependent country usually of the tropics; especially: one run despotically”. A banana republic typically has an unstable government, which is frequently brought on by the widespread misconduct among public servants. These regimes might oppress their citizens and be hostile to the lower classes. The economy is heavily reliant on the wealthy or corporate elites, and poverty is pervasive. There is a significant economic divide between the wealthy and the poor. Foreign investors tend to own much of the country’s infrastructure, and the economy is usually based on limited natural resources.
Bangladesh, a country often regarded as a “banana nation”, is known for its jute and textile industry along with its cheap labour market. These twin attractions are what draw the attention of foreign companies to invest in multiple factories and other infrastructure like sweatshops in the country. It hosts hundreds of fast fashion companies throughout various cities. Fast fashion is the practice of inexpensively and rapidly producing clothing collections to satisfy customer demand for the most recent trends. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the exploitation of garment workers in nations like Bangladesh, where sweatshops are common and employees frequently endure adverse working conditions and low pay. Due to the fast fashion industry’s dependence on inexpensive labour, there has been abuse of the workforce, including long hours, low pay, and hazardous working conditions.
Gap Inc. is a well-known American clothing and accessories retailer with a global presence. The company owns several popular brands, including Gap, Banana Republic & Old Navy. Over the years, Gap Inc. has faced numerous allegations and criticisms related to the use of sweatshops in its supply chain, particularly in countries like Bangladesh. According to a recent study, Gap has around 56 factories in Bangladesh alone.
Paul Smith in his paper tried to define the contradictory relation between banana republics and the West. He writes, “The use of the phrase banana republic in this enterprise is somewhat inexact and contradictory: the most frequent area of reference in the company’s decor and rhetoric (and, indeed, in its actual retail products) is the colonial and postcolonial world of British imperialism, rather than those areas of the globe submitted to American capital expansion in the early twentieth century and concerning which the term banana republic is more often” (Smith). It is an especially dystopic name considering the contemporary discourses surrounding fast fashion in the West. Consumption rates in the West are already much higher than in the Eastern hemisphere. Despite having access to alternative sources of clothing like second-hand stores, people in the West keep insisting that fast fashion is the only way for people of lower income groups and tax brackets to buy affordable clothing. The ethics of clothing and thrift are complicated (thrifting has itself become gentrified). However, dismissing the problems caused by fast fashion because its consumption is the more convenient option causes a whole host of problems in the Global South. It means that the consumer is inherently participating in a culture that excuses abuse and actively contributes to climate change- which is far worse for poor people in the periphery who lack the resources to bounce back after a natural disaster.
Using Theoretical Perspectives to Comprehend the Problem
The core-periphery model is a theoretical framework that describes the hierarchical structure of the world economy. There are core states, semi-peripheral states, and periphery states in this model. While periphery states are usually less developed and rely on the core states for trade and economic resources, core states are highly developed, industrialised countries that control and dominate the global economy (Christofis).
Core countries exploit periphery countries through unequal trade relations. The ability of core countries to determine trade agreements often enables them to buy goods and services from periphery states at competitive rates while charging higher prices for their own goods. This results in a situation where periphery countries become dependent on exports, which can be vulnerable to fluctuations in global demand and commodity prices, leading to economic instability. Foreign direct investment is another method that core countries benefit from. The environment or the welfare of the host country’s citizens is not considered much when core countries participate in peripheral economies. They additionally engage in activities that are harmful to the citizens and natural resources of the peripheral nation, such as sweatshop labour or environmental degradation (Christofis).
Bangladesh is a periphery country, which means it is a low-income nation that is dependent on the core countries for economic growth and development. Due to its status, Bangladesh is vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful and resourceful core countries. Additionally, they are also disadvantaged in terms of technology and innovation. They do not have access to the latest technological advancements and often lack the means to develop their own. This creates a technological gap between periphery and core countries, which the latter can exploit for their gain. Furthermore, periphery countries are often politically unstable, and their governments lack the resources to provide basic services to their citizens. This creates an environment where multinational corporations can operate with minimal restrictions, exploiting the country’s resources and labour force without any repercussions (Davis).
The economies of the West were built off the backs of Global South labour, with the establishment of the colonial project and the slave trade. It is this historical exploitation that has enabled the West to flourish and consume at unfathomable rates. Many countries in the Global South and on the periphery still struggle with weak economies and significant levels of poverty as a result of colonisation and exploitation.
The United States has profited from its political and economic hegemony over the Global South as a core nation. From nations like Bangladesh, which has been a significant exporter of cost-effective textiles to the US market, the US has been able to obtain cheap labour and resources. The US has been able to maintain its economic development and standard of living while keeping labour costs low thanks to this relationship.
Dependency theory is a sociological and economic theory that states that the exploitation of the resources and work of the Global South has enabled the economic growth of the Global North. Here, fast fashion serves as the ideal example of how dependency theory functions in the contemporary world economy.
Bangladesh’s economy is highly dependent on exports of clothing, the majority of which are made for fast fashion retailers in the developed world. As a result, Bangladesh’s economic growth is reliant on the Global North’s appetite for fast fashion. Fast fashion has both good and negative effects on Bangladesh. On the one hand, the garment industry has helped to alleviate poverty in the nation and employed millions of people, mostly women. On the other hand, the working conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories are infamously bad, with low pay, lengthy hours, and frequently unsafe working conditions that cause a variety of health problems like arthritis, vision loss, and lung problems.
But what of the workers? The most sinister symptom of the core-periphery divide is, of course, the fact that none of the Bangladeshi garment workers will ever get to put on the clothes they make. Alienation is described as the feeling of being disconnected or separated from something. In the context of the fast fashion industry in a peripheral country like Bangladesh, alienation manifests itself in several ways that impact the workers in the industry. Largely, many fast fashion industry employees feel disconnected from the end product they are producing. They put in long hours and endure difficult working circumstances to create clothing that is marketed to consumers in Western nations. Due to their low pay and unfavourable working conditions, they are unlikely to be able to purchase the products they produce nor do they have any utility for the product.
Although the colonizers have long left Dhaka’s port and the state has embraced a more liberal, globalized ideal, the partnership between core and periphery remains unchanged, spare a few cosmetic details. To outfit the core, Bangladesh must toil away and bear the brunt of the side effects. In addition to this material denial, the core must also rub their power in the periphery’s face by christening their corporations with the names of systemic issues that still persist today.
About the author …
Hi everyone, this is Adrita Majumder, sutdent of Flames University (West Bengal). I’m a Sociology major with a Film and Television minor, driven by a deep curiosity about group behaviors and a passion for storytelling. Outside of academia, I express my creativity through photography and videography, trying to capture compelling visuals that tell meaningful stories. I strive to merge my sociological insights with my creative skills to create impactful content that sparks conversations and challenges societal norms.