Author: Ellie Pithers | Published: April 26, 2017
WHO made the clothes you’re wearing right now? It’s a simple enough question. But four years on from the Rana Plaza disaster, it’s more important than ever that we keep asking it.
This week marks the anniversary of the collapse of the Bangladesh factory complex that killed 1,138 garment workers and injured a further 2,500 in one of the worst industrial tragedies in history. In four years the Bangladeshi government, clothing companies, and labour unions have made some progress towards improving workers’ rights. 38 people have been charged with murder – although none have been convicted.
But just a few months ago, in January, protests erupted in Bangladesh over low pay at dozens of garment factories in Bangladesh. Scores of protesters have been arrested, and over 1,500 have lost or been suspended from their jobs, though that number is probably far higher, as a recent investigation by the New York Times found.
Conditions in the factories remain desolate. The minimum wage in Bangladesh – 32 cents an hour – is still frighteningly low, indeed the lowest minimum wage in the world. Garment workers earn £44 a month, which is nowhere near a living wage. And Bangladesh’s largest factory owner lobby has said it will not enter into new wage negotiations until 2018.
It’s easy to feel powerless when faced with these statistics. Fashion’s supply chains are incredibly complicated beasts that require hours of unravelling – from farm to factory to store, from zips to buttons to beading, it’s never clear under what conditions they came into being. Often brands don’t own factories outright – so garment production is subcontracted out, making it difficult to hold people to account. As Jenny Holdcroft, Assistant General Secretary at IndustriALL Global Union, told a panel at Fashion Question Time, held in the House of Commons on Monday: “Companies are getting the benefit of workers’ labour without shouldering the responsibility of being their employer.”
But it’s also easy to start asking questions. In the spirit of transparency, this week also marks Fashion Revolution Week, an ethical initiative whose current focus is #whomademyclothes, a campaign which encourages consumers to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Here are six ways to get involved with Fashion Revolution Week, and shop mindfully in the process.
1. Take a picture of your label
Snap a label selfie, post it on Instagram or Twitter, tag the brand, and ask them #whomademyclothes. During Fashion Revolution Week last year, the hashtag reached 129 million people through 70,000 posts on Twitter and Instagram.