Bangladesh – what have we learned?

Nazma AkterWhen you treat workers as cheap labor it’s difficult to care for them. The long term solution to this is simply responsible entrepreneurship – Nazma Akhter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (Union of Garment Workers Association)

bangladesh-petition-1-537x402A year ago , we watched in horror as news agencies covered the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh. Over 1000 garment workers died, thousands more were injured, many so badly that they can no longer work.

The collapse created a lot of media buzz and companies like Loblaws, Joe Fresh, Walmart, H&M and dozens more were criticized, firstly for having their clothing made in this factory and others like it, and then for not immediately signing an Accord, agreeing to ensure that factories would be improved and be safe for workers.

bangladesh_640I  had my own remorse/angst about the whole thing and blogged about that. Yes, I shop thrift but I’m still a consumer. I agonized over my responsibility. I wrote letters. I read books. I prayed for the victims and their families. I gave money to organizations that have economic programs in Bangladesh, in particular supporting women.

Then I stopped thinking about it.

But a little while ago, I was reminded that the anniversary of the factory collapse is coming up and I started looking for information, trying to see if anything has been done since the collapse. I wondered – have we learned anything? The answer to that is yes. And no.

joe fresh in bangladeshYes. We’ve learned a lot about the working conditions of the people who make our clothing. We’ve learned that those conditions are appalling and that something needs to be done about them.

Demonstrators outside of Gap's offices in San Fransisco, April 2013.

Demonstrators outside of Gap’s offices in San Fransisco, April 2013.

Yes. We‘ve learned that when consumers make demands, companies respond. The Bangladesh Accord Foundation was created with the goal that all garment factories in Bangladesh will be safe and healthy work places. It’s a good beginning but there is a long, long way to go. To be fair, this problem wasn’t created overnight and the problem will also not be solved overnight. At least this is a step in the right direction.

cheap clothingNo. Consumers still demand cheap clothing. We all – myself included – need to look harder at our consumption, whether we’re buying thrift or not. I look at my closet and I realize that I have more clothes than I need. That’s all there is to it. It’s good to buy thrift – if for no other reason than charity thrift shops support the good work of charities and so it’s a great way to support that work. Still, I need to do more to support the efforts of those who are working to improve the lives of garment workers around the world.

made in BangladeshCBC TV’s The Fifth Estate aired an excellent documentary that follows the journey of a Walmart clothing designer as he travels to Bangladesh and traces his designed shirt back to the factory workers who made it. It’s a compelling story and gives us all a lot to think about. I encourage you to take the time to watch it.

BANGLADESH-BUILDING-DISASTER-TEXTILESo, I will continue to shop thrift. I will continue to support organizations that work to improve the lives of garment workers. I will continue to educate myself and will share what I learn here.

How has the Bangladesh garment factory story impacted you?

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