Today is International Workers’ Day, when the achievements of the international workers movement are celebrated worldwide. It’s a day where we promise to respect other people's labour and love our work. A day where we promote KNOW COST instead of LOW COST so that the tragedies of labour abuse and worker exploitation are a thing of the past.
Last week, over 400 people died when Rana Plaza, an eight-storey building housing garment factories, collapsed outside the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. It was covered by nearly every major Western news body as “the worst accident in the history of the garment industry”.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In 2005, the collapse of the Spectrum garment factory near Savar killed more than 60 workers while, in 2012, fires that broke out in two garment factories in Karachi and Lahore killed over 300 workers. More recently, 112 workers died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions Factory in Ashulia last November; all because their building did not have any fire exits. These incidents are horrific, and tragically all could have been easily prevented.
Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap ready-made clothing for many Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labour. However, the industry has been widely criticised for the dangerous working conditions in its garment factories and the low pay and limited rights given to its labourers.
Writing on the “Business Fights Poverty” blog, Ayesha Mustafa, founder and director of Fashion ComPassion, said “I just can’t stand the idea that these factory owners believe that they are doing a huge service by providing jobs to the workers and lifting them out of poverty...just because people are poor they should not be given jobs that can cost them their lives”.
So what can we do to drive change in clothes industry? Here are our thoughts.
Firstly, as western consumers, we need to acknowledge that our consumption habits have direct knock-on effects through the global supply chain. We therefore need to become conscious consumers, thinking more carefully about the clothes that we buy.
We also feel that the retail industry is not doing enough to help protect the lives of their work force. Retailers 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. We feel that the retail industry can achieve a lot by supporting such strict measures.
Finally, the UK government and international regulatory bodies need to start advocating strict governing regulations for manufacturers and heavy fines for those who break them. There should also be checks made by International Labour Organizations and other NGO bodies to ensure that factory workers are not being exploited, have good working conditions and are getting a fair wage.
We, as consumers, hold the power to make change happen. Choose wisely, buy from brands who are transparent and celebrate the makers.
What do you think? How can we change the clothing industry to prevent industrial tragedies like Rana Plaza from happening again?
Send us your thought and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or via our blog.
For more information about the Rana Plaza collapse and the responses to it, check out these articles from the Ethical Fashion Forum, Business Fights Poverty, Huffington Post, The BBC and The Guardian.