Last week, the BBC aired 'Panorama - Dying For A Bargain', a current affairs documentary which investigated how our clothes in the UK were really made. The investigation found evidence of shocking working conditions and an industry that still puts profit before safety. Back in April, more than a thousand garment workers died when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed.
5 months on, reporter Richard Bilton went back to see if there had been any changes in the ready to wear industry. Secret filming by the Panorama team discovered that people working 19 hour days, security guards who lock in the workers and factory owners who hide the truth from western retailers.
Along with the undercover filming of unsafe and dangerous factory conditions, Richard Bilton also spoke to a number of industry experts and campaigners including Sam Maher from Labour Behind The Label, and Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. Kalpona said 'Behind these labels, there are human faces. And those humans should be treated as a human. Not like equipment. Not like a slave'.
This powerful documentary reiterates the need for drastic change in the clothing industry. But what can we, the consumers, do to drive such change? Back in May, we wrote a piece about the Rana Plaza collapse and how we, the consumers, can make a positive difference.
We said that consumers need to acknowledge that our current consumption habits DO have direct knock-on effects through the supply chain and, therefore, we need to think more carefully about what clothes we buy and how often we buy them.
We also said that the retailers DO play a influential role and, therefore, they should be encouraged to make rigorous checks on their manufacturers and suppliers, visiting factories on a regular basis to ensure proper health and safety regulations and fair labour standards are implemented.
Finally, we said that the UK government and international regulatory bodies NEED to start advocating strict regulations for manufacturers and heavy fines for those who do not comply with them. There should be checks made by International Labour Organisations and other NGO bodies to ensure that factory workers are not being exploited, have good working conditions and are getting a fair wage.
You may think that consumers don't hold the power to make a difference but we do.
You can watch Panorama - Dying For A Bargain documentary in full here.