I’m sorry to say that until 5pm on Friday 24th April 2015, I had not realised that it was the second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The collapse of this factory was caused by structural failures and resulted in the death of over 1,100 people. It was the most deadly of all garment factory accidents in history. The building contained clothing factories as well as a bank, flats, and shops. When cracks in the building were discovered the day before the collapse, warnings were issued to not use the building, but garment workers were ordered to go to work.
Stakeholders have argued that the tragedy happened essentially because of corporate irresponsibility: managers sent their workers back to the factories because of the pressure they were under to complete orders for buyers on time, linked to the notion of fast fashion (rapid turnover of collections). Again, the demand for fast fashion and low cost clothing is blamed for brands turning a blind eye to working conditions.
The response to the factory collapse has come in many different forms:
- A new Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was drawn up and by October 2013 had been signed by one third of the Bangladeshi textile industry.
- A fund for compensation for the victims
- Demands for paying garment workers globally a living wage (rather than a minimum wage)
- A campaign called Who Made My Clothes by a group called Fashion Revolution. Which brings me back to the afternoon of 24th April 2015, when I noticed this…
As I was walking down the high street in Rolle, I obviously had to go and investigate, and met the boutique’s owner Theresa Hamilton whose ethos is to only stock ethical fashion brands. She encouraged me to think about who makes my clothes and take part in Fashion Revolution’s campaign to remember the Rana Plaza victims, make sure that such a tragedy does not happen again and to improve garment workers’ conditions.
The campaign works by getting curious about what goes on behind clothing brands and of course using social media. You too can turn your T-shirt inside out, take a selfie with the label showing and post to @fash_rev with the hashtag #whomademyclothes #fashrev. You might even get an answer!
This concept of “who made my clothes” is something we are already more conscious of in the food sector. We have a greater awareness of conditions in the banana, coffee, cocoa, or tea supply chain than we do in the textile industry. And yet, we all need to clothe ourselves, and we can all learn to make more socially responsible choices, as we have done with food (fair trade labels, non-GMO, organic/bio etc).
To find out how to make better choices have a look at these:
- Switzerland’s most well known ethical brand – Switcher based in our very own Canton de Vaud
- A Ma Fille, boutique in Rolle, read the owner and founder’s blog
- Green Stilettos blog (also based in Switzerland)
- The Clean Clothes Campaign
- Fair Wear
Author: Dr. Marina Curran, Professor at BSL