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Made in Bangladesh

April 24, 2013
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Rescuers this morning remove injured garment workers from the collapsed garment building in Bangladesh that has killed at least 87 people

Rescuers this morning remove injured garment workers from the collapsed garment building in Bangladesh that has killed at least 87 people. Photo credit: A.M. Ahad

Wednesday yet another tragedy in the textile industry: in Bangladesh, a garment factory building collapsed and killed at least 230 people and injured 1,000. This story is currently developing.

Read it here.

You’ll want to know that among the businesses there were suppliers to brands Joe Fresh, Mango, Primark, Benetton, The Children’s Place, and Dress Barn. Clothes with Disney, Wal-Mart and other western world labels were found at this factory.

People and rescuers gather after an eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. Workers in the building said that because it had developed such severe cracks the day before, it had been reported on local news channels. Photo credit: A.M. Ahad/AP

People and rescuers gather after an eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. Workers in the building said that because it had developed such severe cracks the day before, it had been reported on local news channels. Photo credit: A.M. Ahad/AP

More images here.

As consumers and especially me, a fashion blogger, there’s heavy complicity in the fast-fashion addiction that supports unsafe and unfair labour practices. This is a big ugly bag of issues including low-wages, unsafe workplaces, underage girls lured and trapped into work agreements, and so much more. In Canada we’re very excited about the idea of quashing bullying, which is an excellent and essential project- but we’re wearing clothes made by people whose fingers might have been amputated as a result of making us a pair of pants. We make no sense because we don’t want to- we know these factory conditions aren’t ok, we know there are horrors there- psychological, physical.

These wouldn’t happen in Canada, in America, in Europe. But we’re doing it anyway. We are complicit in what’s happening in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and China. We let all those people die, and they’re largely all women- girls, actually. Some would say that this is women’s issue; I feel it probably is, but I just want it to be handled as a human one.

Many factories, including the Tazreen garment factory that collapsed this morning, lack emergency exits and of the eight floors, only three were legally built. Surviving employees said gates were locked and managers told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off this morning. I’ve read this before about managers who run these factories- locking the employees inside is common practice, and it is also how so many of them die when an accident sparks. It’s been barely five months since the last factory fire that killed 112 people in Bangladesh.

While I understand that this is not a simple issue of shutting down textile factories in countries where the notion of fair and safe labour conditions is a distant (and generally impeded) thought – by western companies no less-, there is an opportunity for me and our collective society to support companies that are making an effort to do the right thing- which is… charging us more for clothes so that the factories are safer, wages are higher, employees are treated fairly, etc.

I’m no longer surprised at how much stuff is produced in these dangerous garment factories. I have many pieces that are made in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan. I don’t feel fabulous wearing these clothes any more.

You’ve noticed that I’ve largely switched to endorsing vintage on Fashion in Motion, and I’m purchasing vintage, too. I am looking at garment tags like nutrition labels- made in USA, made in France- that’s what I’m after. Made in the first world, because at least this I can trust- we don’t tolerate these factory conditions over here. I’m also going vintage- it’s wonderful but it also repurposes instead of being landfill.

I am attempting to shift this blog into a more conscious fashion space- it’s been slow and unsteady. I want to keep my relationships with partners in the industry and guide them into making decisions that the right ones- gentle pressure.

As you probably know, it is also incredibly difficult to learn the truth about which companies are progressive, attempting to improve the industry, and which ones are pretending to be good with some slick PR on the front that shows improvements in one factory while concealing regressions elsewhere. Although frankly, many manufacturers just aren’t even pretending and don’t care. If you shop at the mall these days, chances are you’re looking at everything made in these types of garment factories.

Will we pay more for products made more fairly, in safer factories? What’s the real cost of a pair of pants? $19 doesn’t make sense to me. We all know it, we just choose not to deal with it emotionally because it is convenient for us to save here and make ends meet, save for our retirement and our summer vacation, go out for dinner in a new outfit. We have a great life, it’s expensive, so we’re cutting a few corners, too.

My car costs me a fortune, rent is high, food is crazy, I like to go out dancing- I have a really awesome life that can easily be (and still is) subsidized by other people’s suffering. I manage my expenses, I make my ends meet- I used to buy new clothes and treated my niece and nephews with new outfits since the price tag is so low and it’s all I can afford. I don’t do it as much any more, though. I’m choosy, now. But it’s not just about clothes- it’s also the food industry. And it starts to feel incredibly overwhelming when I think about the reach and environmental impact of all these companies catering to our quick-fix desires. And I feel preachy.

I’m learning as I go; I’m doing my best to make better spending decisions.

Johanne

Former bonded textile worker Vasandi, at left in blue, with a friend being trained in tailoring by a group called Rights, Education and Development in Satyamangalam. (Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail)

Former bonded textile worker Vasandi, at left in blue, with a friend being trained in tailoring by a group called Rights, Education and Development in Satyamangalam. (Photo credit: Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail)

You’ll also want to read Globe and Mail reporter Stephanie Nolen’s series, Breaking Caste, in which she meets workers (young girls) who are in bonded labour conditions working in textile garment factories in India.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2013 11:54 am

    This is why it makes so much sense to buy “Made in Canada” Think Global, buy Local…

    • April 25, 2013 12:58 pm

      Yes! unfortunately our creative industry seems to be nearly all gone to these developing nations. Buying from local designers: YES!

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