Thursday, 30 May 2013

Why Not Change?

On the 24th of April, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed costing the lives of over 1100 garment workers, mainly women from rural areas. The incident is the worst disaster ever to have occurred in the global garment industry. News of the tragedy travelling around the world lead to a media frenzy and as global attention focused on the substandard and dangerous working conditions in factories in the fashion industry, big retail brands were quick to issue statements and promise change. But have not such promises been made before? Visit the website of any given highstreet fashion label and you will most likely find a section on 'sustainability', 'corporate responsibility' or 'ethical trading' where the company pledges its support for a better world in beautifully worded promises about company values and videos show happy workers stating how much they love working for this particular company. Why then can something like the Rana Plaza happen? Or should we ask why do we keep letting it happen?

Picture from the wreck of the Rana Plaza (from National Post)
Although the largest so far, Rana Plaza is only one event in a chain of disasters that have taken place in garment factories and sweatshops over the past few years. Only six months ago, over 100 people died in a fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia near Dhaka and seven years ago 64 workers were killed in a similar building collapse. It is estimated that since 2005 at least 1,800 people have died in fires, stampedes, building collapses and other incidents in garment factories in Bangladesh. But once the river of media coverage dries up, how easy is it to forget any of this ever happened? Holding that £5 H&M t-shirt in our hands at check-out, do we ever remember? I cannot help but wonder, if a similar incident had happened in a UK factory, what would the consequences have been?

The garment industry in Bangladesh accounts for 80% of the country's exports and provides employment for roughly four million people. This makes for a complex situation and as everyone is busy playing the blame-game, I fear that very little again will change.

What can I do?
So rather than pointing fingers and finding scapegoats, maybe we had better thought about what we can do to help change happen. Here are a few suggestions:

Sign a Petition
Since the internet, petitions appealing to authorities, companies or industries for change have grown exponentially in size and number. A petition is an easy way to put pressure on an organisation to achieve change. You simply sign on with your name and email to demonstrate your support. There are even websites, like, that are specifically tailored towards creating and sharing petitions.
And apparently, they work!
The petition by the charity War on Want to get UK retailers to take responsibility for the Bangladesh disaster was signed by over 80,000 people and on the 16th of May over 30 companies signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, among them H&M, Primark and Marks & Spencer.

The accord commits the retailers to ensure and financially contribute to the building safety in the factories used by them. You can still sign the petition here.
I recently also signed the 1% Let's Fix Fashion campaign by UK ethical fashion blog Ms Wanda's Wardrobe. The campaign asks big fashion retailers to invest at least 1% into solving problems in their supply chain, making working conditions save, more ethical and environmentally friendly. 1% doesn't seem like a lot when you consider how much companies such as these must spend on marketing.

Get involved with a Charity
There are numerous charities out there fighting for change and justice. Find one in your local area and get involved with it, or support a big international organisation. For instance you could volunteer in your local Oxfam shop or get involved with the Fairtrade Foundation, War on Want or Action Aid (to name but a few). Charities always need support, and you can donate your money, time or simply your voice to their cause. To make it more fun, why not be creative about it? You can turn pretty much anything into a fundraiser, so why not a zombie march on Halloween, a glamorous tea party in the park or a local fashion show?

Shout loudly
Thanks to the internet, you can not only sign petitions, but actually contact companies directly. Nobody likes bad press, so why not tweet or facebook some of these retailers asking them to change and showing them that their consumers care? War on Want has made good use of this strategy, organizing people to harass  companies en masse using social media. If this is a bit too aggressive for you, then why not talk to family and friends about these issues and get them to think about it. Who knows, they may well feel the same and you may be able to support each other...

Buy differently and use differently
It is a fact that the garment industry employs millions of people and some argue that boycotting these products would destroy their livelihood. However, garment workers are often payed less than a living wage and are perpetually kept poor. So, if we never buy differently, how are things ever going to change?
Fair trade and ethical clothing brands provide great alternative options to highstreet fast fashion. Check out my links page to find a list of just a few or snoop around some of my old posts...
Other than buying more ethically, maybe it is time we had changed our attitude to fashion and clothes as a whole. Rather than 'just' buying something because its cheap, letting it drown in the depths of our wardrobe once we no longer like it, or throwing it out when it has lost its shape, why not think twice about the next item of clothing we buy? Think about how huge the effect could be if we were to revamp or restyle our old clothes rather than always buying new ones. Maybe it is time we started valuing the quality of a piece of clothing over its bargain price and invest in items that will last and come to define a part of our lives.

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