Police in Bangladesh have charged 42 individuals, including the owner of the Rana Plaza complex, with murder. They are accused of ignoring warnings not to allow workers into the building the day before it collapsed in April 2013. 1130 people were killed and thousands more suffered severe injuries. The eight story factory in the Bangladesh town of Savar was used by several major suppliers including one that produces garments for Primark.
The factory collapse and the deaths of the workers caused international outrage back in 2013. The world united in solidarity to help the victims, prevent future incidents and improve the working conditions of Bangladesh’s garment workers. The story was front page news across the globe. The fashion industry quickly rallied and drew up an accord committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi garment industry. Politicians declared it a ‘terrible and avoidable catastrophe’ and consumers vowed to shop more ethically and avoid the fast fashion retailers known to use the offending factories. Even the Pope got involved declaring it ‘against God’. But as time goes by, people forget. How many politicians mention the subject now it’s out of the media spotlight? How many fashion retailers actually signed up to the accord? And in an unstable economy, how many of us have given much thought to the origin of that steal of a jumper on sale in H&M?
A new documentary released this week called “The True Cost” has thrust the issues back in the spotlight. The film, directed by Andrew Morgan, examines the business of fast fashion and highlights the human rights abuses and slavery that occur so that we can wear cheap and disposable fashion. Morgan meets a cotton farmer in Texas whose husband died from a brain tumor from the use of pesticides on the cotton crops. A 23-year-old Bangladeshi garment factory worker featured describes how she makes the equivalent of £7 a month. When she attempted to start a union with some co-workers to improve working conditions, she was locked in a room and beaten.
It’s not the first time a documentary has highlighted the dangerous working conditions and slave labour like treatment of fast fashion factory workers. A report by Swedish documentary Kalla Facta which aired in November 2012 accused H&M of paying garment workers less than 25% of a living wage. They also alleged that the factories were overcrowded and have poor working conditions. The camera crew followed garment worker Deuar Sophon who told them that she is forced to take out high-interest loans to purchase food despite working 70 hours per week making garments for H&M. In February 2013 it was also reported that Spanish retail giant Zara has been accused of employing immigrant workers, including children, to produce clothes in “degrading” sweatshop conditions in Argentina. The Bolivian workers claimed that they were made to work for more than 13 hours a day and were not allowed leave the factory without permission.
Bangladesh is the second biggest exporter of clothes in the world and its £13billion textiles industry provides money and jobs for millions of workers. Pulling out of the country would cripple a nation so heavily reliant on its garment exports which account for a staggering 80% of total exports. Providing a fair wage and safe working conditions surely isn’t too much to ask?
Remember, don’t let the retailers get complacent, don’t let the politicians forget their promises and think before you buy. There is a reason the clothes are cheap – someone else is paying the price, often with their lives…