5.05.2013

Bangladesh - an exercise in feeling hopeless and not knowing what to do

I do have a post in the works about what we think of outfit photos but I just read Lucy Siegle's Fashion still doesn't give a damn about the deaths of garment workers and wanted to be sure to post about Bangladesh and there is no time like the present, especially because I've been avoiding it.

I sat on my hands in mentioning the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh.  There are a few reasons but mostly it was not knowing what to say in terms of how to go forward.  I can say how sorry and sad I am.  How disgusted.  The disbelief.  But I still don't actually have any great advice.  I'm not a good "sit in my feelings" person.  I'm a do-er.  A closer.  And when I can't move forward, I feel like I have nothing.

04-01-11 pictures 045

These were made in the US!

There are so many moving parts with this one --  in terms of intent, accountability and economy.  We know we want better labor standards but we aren't directly in control of those standards.  Better labor standards are not aligned with what companies expect to pay for garments and what the garment manufacturers expect to make per order.  There is an intentionally-placed wall between the brands and the manufacturing conditions so that we are still having conversations about whether the brands or the manufacturing companies are responsible and no one ends up being accountable. 

I wanted to share the excerpts below, and to hear your thoughts about how we can improve labor standards in the apparel manufacturing industry.  This also makes me think about how quickly people shoot down buying from American Apparel because of its many issues...but I still think, given situations like this, they are the lesser evil.

Anyway, here goes!

In the Siegle piece, linked above:

Perhaps, though, the Rana Plaza tragedy could be a tipping point. Maybe young consumers (often considered difficult to reach) will be jolted into action against the brands they seem to worship. "I would urge any young shopper to think about whether they believe over 500 deaths is an acceptable scenario," says Stacey Dooley, who saw at first hand the real cost of fast fashion production, for the BBC 3 series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts. "If not, they should let the retailers know and threaten to take their money elsewhere," she adds.

It's indicative of the chaos of today's fashion supply chain that many brands don't know where they are producing. An order might be placed in a first-tier factory that ticks all the auditor's health and safety boxes. But, according to Doug Miller, emeritus professor of supply chain ethics at Northumbria University and author of Last Nightshift in Savar: "Factory owners can't make money on the original order – the price has been set too low – so will therefore find someone who can," subcontracting to producers of ever-declining standards.

And in Fast Fashion, Fair Wages, which I stumbled upon :

"In this set-up, buyers really aren't motivated to care about labour issues unless they're going for the altruism dollar, which is a long shot," Moore, who has written extensively on the global garment industry, told AFP.

But attention on the recent accident in Bangladesh "is pressuring all companies, whether they were in that building or not, to tighten their supply chain -- which is good," said one Hong Kong-based manager with a global fashion brand who did not want to be named as her company policy bars her from talking to the media.

"But ultimately buyers cannot go in and change the system in Bangladesh. (The government) needs to take responsibility," the manager added, pointing out that unlike Vietnam, Dhaka neither imposes a standard annual minimum wage increase nor allows garment workers to unionise.

Unless standards improve, Dhaka also needs to realise that its cash-cow industry -- which accounts for some 80 percent of export earnings -- is at risk, she said.

I've seen a few mentions of civic pressure campaigns online as well.  Which do you think have the best chance of making an impact?  What kind of impact needs to be made?  Are we collectively willing to buy more expensive clothes and therefore less of them? Are the fast fashion shoppers ready? 

Edited to add a link to this post on GOMI - the catladies there have asked if fashion bloggers are addressing Bangladesh and there are some very thoughtful contributions to that conversation.  (It's a SOMI moment.)  It made me feel justified in my trolling the fashion blogger snark.

2 comments:

  1. Honestly, your post is coming at an interesting time for me and I'm sure a lot of other readers out there, after the tragedy and the slowly-but-steadily growing conversation about being an ethical consumer.
    I admit, I picked up a few things from Forever 21 last week, probably because I'm weak, budget-challenged, and shiny things attract me. But more and more, I feel guilty buying a necklace for $3.80, because unless you believe in fairies or Santa's Elves, how could that price point possibly mean that everyone involved was compensated fairly? The knee-jerk reaction seems to be that "well they need jobs" but I can't find relief from responsibility for that. Often when I hear people make jokes and laugh about sweatshops I and find it a little hard to swallow, even though I used to do the same. I thought it was slightly self-deprecating, especially if you're walking into Wal-Mart while joking about child labor, but I've come to think that it's a weak, shallow, all-American response that I don't want to ever come from my lips, especially since we've been so conditioned by the media to buy buy buy: everyone needs/wants ten pairs of shoes, five bags, and a new outfit for every party. And you know, I do like shopping and clothes, I do want a nice wardrobe, I want options, but I don't think I want to contribute the way I used to.

    Ummmkinda went off topic I think, I'll just finish up here. Thanks for recommending that BBC doc!

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    1. A belated thank you for this reply, Meghan. I used the make the same kid sweatshop jokes and eventually also just stopped being so divorced from it that I could see the humor in it. I don't even know if it was ever fully "humor" but more needing to say *something* and humor being the best defense to not having a great answer.

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