‘The Song of the Shirt: The High Price of Cheap Garments, from Blackburn to Bangladesh’ by Jeremy Seabrook wins the Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing 2016

8 May


The Alliance of Radical Booksellers is delighted to announce the winner of this year’s Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing as ‘The Song of the Shirt: The High Price of Cheap Garments, from Blackburn to Bangladesh’ by Jeremy Seabrook, and published by Hurst Publishers.

In ‘The Song of the Shirt’ Seabrook shines a light on the seemingly forgotten plight of Bangladeshi textile workers, and compares, contrasts and links their situation with the histories of Britain’s own textile workers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Remarkably, Seabrook does so with a uniquely lyrical prose style, and with an insight that is both highly knowledgeable and unmistakably heartfelt.

Official synopsis

“Labour in Bangladesh flows like its rivers in excess of what is required. Often, both take a huge toll. Labour that costs $1.66 an hour in China and 52 cents in India can be had for a song in Bangladesh 18 cents. It is mostly women and children working in fragile, flammable buildings who bring in 70 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange. Bangladesh today does not clothe the nakedness of the world, but provides it with limitless cheap garments through Primark, Walmart, Benetton, Gap.

In elegiac prose, Jeremy Seabrook dwells upon the disproportionate sacrifices demanded by the manufacture of such throwaway items as baseball caps. He shows us how Bengal and Lancashire offer mirror images of impoverishment and affluence. In the eighteenth century, the people of Bengal were dispossessed of ancient skills and the workers of Lancashire forced into labour settlements.

In a ghostly replay of traffic in the other direction, the decline of the British textile industry coincided with Bangladesh becoming one of the world’s major clothing exporters. With capital becoming more protean than ever, it wouldn’t t be long before the global imperium readies to shift its sites of exploitation in its nomadic cultivation of profit.”


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Quotes from guest judges:

Guest judge Nina Power said of the book “Global, passionate, informative: Seabrook’s The Song of the Shirt is an elegiac and enraging account of the garment industry, placing humanity firmly at its heart.”

Co-guest judge Owen Hatherley added “This panoramic yet elliptical account of the textile towns raised and ruined (and back again) by industrial revolution in Lancashire and Bengal is unusual, powerful, and moving.”

The award was presented by Natalie Bennett, Nina Power and Owen Hatherley at the London Radical Bookfair. The author was presented with a cheque for £500, with the award money funded by the General Federation of Trade Unions.

The ARB would like to thank all publishers and authors who took part, resulting in an incredibly strong shortlist, all of which we would highly recommend reading.

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