No doubt by now everyone has heard about the frequent fires, collapses and explosions in Bangladesh garment factories which have killed thousands over recent months. In the factory collapse alone back on 24th April, 1127 people were killed just a day after workers were protesting the unsafe conditions and raising the alarm about cracks appearing in the building. As they were still clearing that site, on May 9th over 900 more Bangladeshi workers were killed when a fire broke out in their knitwear garment factory.
We all saw the images and talked about how horrific it was. We all heard the big labels named. Walmart. GAP. Uniqlo. Benetton. Joe Fresh. Primark. H&M. Zara. Marks and Spencer. Mango. And then…. The people, outraged and appalled by what they had seen appeared to do what? Nothing. I walked past Primark on Oxford Street recently and it was, as usual, jam packed. People flooded out the doors with smiles, and why wouldn’t they be? They had a huge (Eco-friendly) paper bag full of bargains to see them through (at least until the next trend hits the shelves).
I wondered why it was that the same people I can imagine standing around the water cooler sadly comparing stories they had seen on TV about the factory tragedies with colleagues, seem unable to take back control of their spending behaviour to actually attempt to have some meaningful impact on this world. Are those bargains really so great that we can turn a blind eye to what we know to be the tragic realities of fast fashion? What will it take for people to make a change?
Having been to Bangladesh in 2001 and seeing how hard life is for many many thousands of people doing what they can to get by, I know it is simply not an option for those luck enough to have a source of income to decide to leave because their workplace in unsafe, or to strike because they have unsuitable working conditions. I saw children working making bricks, carrying heavy bricks all day in the heat to make what may be the only income for their household.
So… life there is pretty rough for the vast majority. Add to that the impact of climate change on the region and it really does appear as though there is a value statement being made about Bangladesh and its people. We can’t see them. Not our problem? Of course, no one in their right mind would admit thinking this but what other conclusions can be drawn from our apathy and continued care-less choices…
I recently came across an article with Dame Vivienne Westwood, who is a supporter of the Environmental Justice Foundation – a not for profit organisation working to protect the environment and defend human rights. The have made this small film interviewing one of Bangladesh’s climate refugees. Watch it. You have seen the images of the factory conditions where your clothes are made. If that didn’t cause you to stop and think twice about the source of your clothing purchases… Maybe this will?