On the 24th of April this year ( merely a few weeks ago), Bangladesh was dealt a harsh blow at the hands of the fashion industry, with the disastrous collapse of the Rana Plaza clothes factory in which over 950 died and 149+ reported missing. We feel that it is integral to our project to express our views on consequences of sweatshop labour, and this catastrophe is a most relevant example. Rather than debate the ins and outs of who is to blame, we would like to discuss the fundamental issues that underlie the occurrence of these tragedies.
The collapse has been considered as the deadliest garment-factory accident in history and the deadliest structural failure in modern human history. The building was in poor condition, and the other businesses occupying it had moved out after the discovery of cracks, but factory workers were told to return to work as normal the next day, or face docked wages, when the building collapsed that morning.
The factories in the Rana Plaza made clothes for The Benneton Group, Joe Fresh, The Children's Place, Primark, Monsoon, DressBarn and reportedly Walmart. It has since been discovered that the fourth floor, used for clothes production, had been built without a permit, and the building as a whole was not designed for heavy-duty clothes production but for shops and retail.
The collapse adds to the long list of major accidents that have happened in clothes manufacturing in Bangladesh, but also to the bucket of lessons served to the fashion industry on the costs of cheap labour; but will they listen this time? Unlikely, if the past is any indication of these matters. But we can listen, and if you are reading this , you are listening. But we need to put changes in place - heck, perhaps changes that are mildly uncomfortable at first. But so what? What is slightly tweaking regulations, compared to the hacking-off of limbs to save lives from the ugly wreckage wreaked by industry ? Perhaps making us, the consumer, aware of the implications of our consumerism would make us think twice anyway. As Deborah Ross ( The Independent) says " Let's stop labelling products positively. Why not go the other way? Instead of labelling all clothes as 'ethical' why not assume that all goods are ethical and if they are not, this must be expressly stated by manufacturers."
Exactly. Why is it anything to be proud of that you haven't used cheap labour , or sweatshops, to produce your stock?
I don't have all the answers. It's not my job. But perhaps the people who's job it is need to step up. Big time.