15 Jun 2013
So here we are, one week on from the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh's history. On 24 April 112 workers lost their lives in the Tazreen factory fire. The Pope has today condemned as "slave labour" the working conditions of the Bangladesh garment workers: average monthly salaries are typically around £32 per month - that works out at 22p per hour (for an average 35 hour week)! While Bangladesh and similar developing countries rely on the contracts of western brands to increase their GDP and offer much needed work for their people, we all know that deep in the pit of our stomachs paying someone less than a £1 per hour to work in dangerous conditions simply to provide our insatiable appetite for cheap clothes just is NOT RIGHT.
It is with a heavy heart and no satisfaction that people who have been championing ethical fashion utter the words 'we told you so'. We have been saying for a long time that conditions are unsafe, that workers are being exploited in terrible conditions for tokenistic pay so that we can enjoy ridiculously cheap 'fashion'.
Another perspective is that there is no such thing as cheap fashion - if you're not paying for it, SOMEBODY ELSE IS. What we have just witnessed is a devastating illustration of this. While our shouting about workers rights and safety might come across as brow beating, moral high ground or - heaven forbid - just another marketing ploy, hopefully this disaster has brought home the realities of the 'fast fashion' industry.
Ultimately our habits as consumers can effect change in the lives of people in developing countries, and there are many good initiatives calling for corporations who are using cheap labour in developing countries to up their game and implement proper corporate responsibility.
Personally I do not think boycotting Primark, Matalan et al to be useful. There are tens of thousands of workers who's only means of feeding their families is by working in these factories. We need to have a co-ordinated industry wide response to bring about reforms on the ground. There are plenty of petitions going round, and they are more powerful than you might give them credit for.
If you haven't already signed one (or even if you have) here's a good one from Change.org, petitioning for greater corporate responsibility in the garment industry.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE SIGN THIS OR ANOTHER PETITION OF YOUR CHOICE REGARDING WORKERS SAFETY HEALTH AND RIGHTS IN THE GARMENT INDUSTRY
For some of the most gruilling images from the disaster which cut the the heart of the matter see: