Fashion Should Never Come at the Cost of a Life: Something to think about while getting dressed this morning.
It has been eight weeks since the devastating collapse at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh where 1,127 garment workers died due to negligence and a high demand for cheap clothing. Leading up to the factory collapse at Rana Plaza, workers noticed cracks in the foundation. Management assured them the building was safe and pressure was put on them to finish existing orders in the interest of meeting deadlines. Clothing should never come at the price of lives.
The media has done a relatively good job in continuing its coverage of rebuilding and compensation efforts since the collapse in Dhaka. However, the story has begun to wane in terms of public engagement. The building collapse in Bangladesh is not the only story of its kind, indicating that this is a serious issue that requires continued coverage. Just four months prior, on November 24, 2012 a fire broke out in the Tazreen Factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killing 117 and injuring 200 more. We need to take responsibility for the negative impact our respective decisions are having in places like Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the second largest supplier for the garment industry. With wages so low China has begun to subcontract to Bangladesh in order to continue to keep manufacturing costs low. Workers need the money and there exists an over-anxiety to make ends meet, in other words “any job is better than no job”. The rhetoric of the garment industry promises its employees upward economic mobilization, however evidence illustrates that garment workers continue to suffer from dire poverty.
Canada is not without fault in contributing to the traumatic experiences within the clothing industry. Beyond Loblaw (Joe Fresh) manufacturing at Rana Plaza, Canadian trade from Bangladesh has doubled over the past 5 years. The Canadian government cut tariffs on imports 10 years ago and currently imports over 1 billion worth of garments from Bangladesh. While Loblaw has promised compensation to victims and their families, they have yet to disperse any funds.
So, what can we learn from this tragedy?
Governments, industry, NGOs, workers and consumers alike must invest their policy, business models, programs, efforts, and decisions, respectfully, to shift the garment enterprise away from unethical terms of production and into he sustainable development of the garment industry to upholds the highest social and environmental standards.
i) It is not acceptable for governments to protect businesses at the cost of lives. It is not tolerable for brands to demand cheaper and cheaper costs resulting in corruption and failure to comply with codes. ii) NGOs need to invest in programs that create “systemic” changes within the industry, exceeding the current “band aid” programs that maintain the cycle of poverty. iii) Garment workers, who experience the trauma of the current horrific condition, must be given the freedom to associate in the interest of improving labour standards. iv) As an individual we vote with our dollars when we purchase. It is not about boycotting, but rather reallocating our money. Asking questions of brands, putting pressure on our governments to respond to these issues. It must be a unanimous effort of all parties.
Fashion functions as a form of personal and artistic expression, as way to express our inner artist to the outside world. As such, fashion is often celebrated for its creativity and artistic nature. This rings true worldwide. Solutions to these issues are serviceable by ingenious ingenuity. There is an abundance of knowledge available to incubate change. Make the ethical choice from here out!