By Karundi Serumaga
Working in the garment industry, I can tell you that 2 years is approximately 12 seasons of fashion. Anyone, especially a keen fashionista, has 12 opportunities to change style, change garments, change their wardrobes completely.
Of course, to create so much fashion for people around the globe takes a lot of effort and materials – and quite often, corners are cut. So it seemed almost inevitable when, in the spring of 2013, over 1000 people lost their lives in the collapse Rana Plaza in Bangladesh due to poor working conditions in a garment factory.
Some of these poor souls included children who had no choice but to work to support their families, or to go to the factory to be alongside their parents, who had no alternative child care. The plaza housed over 3000 people making clothing for such notable brands and retailers as Walmart, Benetton, Primark, Lululemon, and ironically, Children’s Place.
These people dedicated their lives to creating clothing to fulfill demand for Western fashion cycles, while earning embarrassingly miniscule wages that barely kept these people alive. They died because of Western neglect in an industry wrought with gluttony, vanity, and selfishness. They did this all in the name of “the latest fashion trend”.
As if that’s not enough, here are 5 further reasons remembering this tragedy is still an event that matters now more than ever.
1. The Families are Still Suffering
Kalpona Akter, who started work as a factory worker at the age of 12, is appalled at the way some companies who produced in Rana Plaza still haven’t taken full responsibility for the tragedy by helping to support the families of the fallen. Now one of the better known labour leaders in Bangladesh, Akter has visited college campuses urging students to push companies like The Children’s Place and Benetton to contribute support payments to the families of the victims who died in Rana Plaza’s collapse.
2. The Power is Still Not to the People
There is a lack of education of human rights amongst garment workers, and most of the large retailers have not been proactive enough in making measurable change here. Some retailers like Benetton have made some monetary contributions to educational programs, but not enough funds have been collected to truly make a difference in educating people about their rights. In fact, many of the individuals and families affected by Rana Plaza have stopped asking for compensation and even stopped supporting leaders like Akter, fearing if they did so, their livelihoods would be at stake.
3. The Government Doesn’t Care
Aminul Islam of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity was tortured and killed on the day he was trying to resolve issues for factories that manage shifts for western brands, including Tommy Hilfiger and American Eagle. The government of Bangladesh has turned a blind eye to this, and other acts of violence against workers fighting for their rights.
4. Companies Don’t Understand
While many companies have pledged to pay a ‘fair wage’ to their workers, Monika Kemperle of the IndustriALL Global Union explains that there is a difference between a wage which a single worker can live from, and a fair wage which also includes the worker’s dependents. In the developing world, where unemployment is rife and one worker often supports 3-4 others, a living wage for a single person doesn’t go very far at all in terms of feeding a family.
5. The Price of Cheap Fashion is Still High
Despite the continued rise of ethical fashion most consumers in the West are still demanding fashion at extremely low prices. No one needs a garment that costs $5, plus 1100 arms and 1100 legs. That is far too high a price to pay. As long as it dominates retail markets around the globe, fast fashion will never be a responsible choice.
How you can help: To help draw attention to the plight of garment workers everywhere, turn your tags inside out on the 24th of April, take a pic and post it on social media with the hashtag #whomademyclothes, tagging the brand you’re wearing, and #fashionrevolution. We want clothing producers to know that we DO care about the welfare of those behind the label!
All images: Wikicommons
Karundi Serumaga is the President of www.ecocoutureclothing.com