Just four years ago, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The factory is one of thousands in Bangladesh, and the inevitable collapse on April 24th, 2013 was due to the poor construction, heavy equipment, thousands of packed-in workers, and illegal addition of extra stories to the building.
The collapse killed 1,138 factory workers and injured 2,500 more, making it the deadliest industrial incident in history.
With the outsourcing of cheap labor by big-name brands, the garment industry brings $28 billion into Bangladesh annually, but of course, workers see hardly any of it. Making just 32 cents per hour (the lowest minimum wage in the world), factory workers struggle to afford basic daily needs.
European and American clothing companies have been able to distance themselves from the deadly conditions within these factories since they contract garment production. The companies neither own the factories nor employ the workers, so they do not take responsibility for the conditions that workers are subjected to.
“Companies are getting the benefit of workers’ labour without
shouldering the responsibility of being their employer.”
– Jenny Holdcroft, Assistant General Secretary at
IndustriALL Global Union
When the news of this tragedy reached you, did you hear of specific companies who outsource to Bangladesh? This is the gap of accountability addressed by Jenny Holdcroft.
Companies like H&M, Walmart, Sears, J.C. Penny, and GAP do not take responsibility for these factory tragedies, and instead blame the subcontractors who outsource labor in these dangerous factories without the companies’ knowledge and factory owners’ disregard for workers’ safety. Interestingly, when articles of clothing containing specific brand tags, like Italian company, Benneton, were found amongst the rubble, the companies deny having ties with the factory.
Though some companies have donated money to workplace safety programs in Bangladesh, most have not helped compensate the families of the dead and injured workers. The Bangladeshi government has had its own hand in politics, trying to protect their country’s main source of income. Encouraging the protection of workers’ rights by supporting the formation of unions and an increase in minimum wage, the government has appeared to be on the workers’ sides, but little has been enacted legally.
There is a large discrepancy of responsibility taken by all parties involved in Bangladeshi factory disasters; the government wants to retain the country’s reputation as being the go-to outsourcing location for European and American brands and these brands want the country to keep supplying the world’s cheapest labor.
A group who isn’t being complacent about taking action are the workers – they are protesting for improved rights, pay, and conditions. The workers lose their jobs for protesting and marching, and are often banned from all factory jobs in the future, but 41 people have been charged with murder for the Rana factory collapse. All but the factory owner himself, Mohammed Sohel Rana, have fled the country or posted bail. If Rana is convicted of murder, he faces a lifetime in prison.
What about consumers? Do we take responsibility for purchases we make?
It is easy to blame corporations for prioritizing greed over social welfare, but it is just as important to realize the impact that we have on the state of the garment-producing industry as consumers. When purchasing from companies who outsource to Bangladeshi factories, we are supporting the exploitation of their factory workers.
There are many simple things that consumers can do to take a stand against the abuse of factory workers, and we hope you will tag along with our journey throughout the rest of Fashion Revolution week as we take a look at how and why we should be conscious consumers.
Happy Fashion Revolution Week,
Pete and Kiana
If you would like to learn more about the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse, we urge you to read the articles which we sourced from:
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