Friday 3 May 2013

can we please say enough is enough?

The death toll from last week's Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh is well over 400, with over 2500 injured. Last year the same region suffered the loss of 112 individuals killed in a garment factory fire at Tazreen Fashions near Dhaka.

Can we please say enough is enough?

Rana Plaza collapse : Andrew Biraj REUTERS
After reading hundreds of articles and seeing innumerable heart-wrenching photos I cannot begin to understand how the loved ones of the victims must be feeling. I am devastated that we live in a world where this type of event happens time and again. And why? For the luxury of cheap fashion. I know if I were to ask you fellow fashion-lovers whether you thought it was fair for people who made your clothing to work in dangerous conditions the answer would be a resounding 'No!', yet this is just the latest bad news from a number of dangerous factories dotting the globe.

Please tell me we've reached the tipping point and these conditions are no longer acceptable?

Waiting on news of rescue efforts: Andrew Biraj REUTERS
I understand and respect those who felt compelled to boycott Primark in the UK over the weekend because of their connection to Rana Plaza, but boycotting cannot solve this complex issue. The garment industry represents 80% of Bangladesh's exports and employs 4 million people - to boycott the brands may ultimately cause them to pull out of Bangladesh altogether, when what we need them to do is stay there and fix the situation.

There is a lot of finger pointing happening at the moment, with brands and retailers blaming poor regulation, and factories blaming brands and retailers for being too demanding.  It seems the largest problem is poor governmental regulation in Bangladesh; unsafe buildings are not shut down, reportedly made worse with numerous cases of owners buying building safety approvals. In the case of Rana Plaza, a building with visible damage and safety warnings from local police, it's widely known the owner was heavily politically connected.

Given the shaky state of regulation the only hope for change rests with the companies using garment factories. It will cost a lot of money to get these factories up to safety standards - money the factories don't have, but Western companies do. It's time our labels paid the full price of the garment they are ordering by ensuring the buildings are up to high safety codes even if that means paying for the upgrades themselves. Please charge me $5 more for my t-shirt or $10 more for my dress so you can make this happen.

It's clear there is a huge problem with Corporate Social Responsibility programs when these events occur. I have no sympathy for companies' lamentations about the difficulty of managing their supply chain, particularly from the large labels reportedly coming out of Rana Plaza (Primark, Mango, Matalan, Bonmarche and others) . I understand there are many stages to production, but that doesn't mean companies don't have a responsibility to inspect these stages and the site(s) of production. As a woman with a business background I can't understand how these business leaders can ignore such an important part of their business. Unsafe working conditions in factories is hardly a 'new' phenomenon and it's simply bad business to assume a place is safe based on a certificate, particularly from a country with shaky regulation.

It's time for retailers and fashion labels to step up, and it's time for us fashion-lovers to let them know we won't tolerate irresponsible behaviour any loner. So, how can you make a difference?

Sign this petition on to demand compensation and action by the brands involved and the Bangladesh government. Primark has already stepped forward to compensate victim's families, and is asking other brands involved to do the same. 

Buy Fairtrade certified clothing as much as possible. I remain a strong proponent of voting with your wallet - demand Fairtrade and over time it will be easier to find these products. A couple of my personal favourite Fairtrade labels include People Tree, ALAS and Kowtow.

Purchase ethical and sustainable labels.  I love certification, but I also know that many small organisations struggle to meet all levels of Fairtrade certification even though they are fully committed to safe and healthy work conditions. I like to shop with Indigo Bazaar in Australia and Fashioning Change in America because they have done the hard work for me in researching beautiful items I can buy with a clear conscience. You can reference other brands via the Ethical Fashion Forum website.

Demand transparency from your favourite brands and retailers. It's time to get active people, and I mean in the activist sense of the word. Start conversations with companies about how important it is for them to behave responsibly by knowing their entire supply chain and the conditions at each level. Let them know you're willing to pay a little bit more to ensure safe working conditions for garment factory workers all over the world.

Buy less and wear your clothes longer.  Fashion is a luxury item, no matter what the cost. Buy good quality pieces, launder them carefully, and treasure them. Remember, someone made it for you!

Remember this story when you're making your next clothing purchase. Look at the labels, understand the brand, and consider beyond the price tag. It's simply unfair for anyone in the world to suffer for the safe of our lifestyle.

Garment workers at a Fairtrade cotton factory.

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