Monday, April 29, 2013

Bangladesh Factory Collapse: What Can We Do About it?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, I assume you've seen some of the media coverage of the Bangladesh garment factory building that collapsed, killing at least 348 people. I'm sure you've seen the disturbing images & video, so I'm not going to hammer you over the head with shocking pictures or try to make you feel guilty. Instead, I want to focus on what we can do here in North America. I want to offer solutions & action that can make a difference, however small.

Image modified from: via Compfight cc
I've seen a lot of calls on Twitter for boycotts of the manufacturers who have their clothes made in these unsafe factories, but I don't think that's the answer here. While there's definitely a link between low wages of offshore garment workers & our hankering for fast fashion & demand for rock-bottom prices for our clothing, I don't think a boycott is going to do it.

The people--predominantly women, as I understand it--who work in these garment factories choose these jobs because they pay better than their other options, as low as the wages are. Just not buying clothes made overseas would mean fewer jobs for these women in Bangladesh, China & all the other countries where clothing manufacturers have gone. They're in the streets fighting for change in their own country, & we need to do our part here, & demand better conditions alongside them.

The anti-sweatshop movement from the 90s made a difference, helping to reduce child labour & making audits of working conditions standard practice. Audits are a good first step, however, we still have a long way to go. The clothing manufacturing industry runs with so many middle men that between the factory floor where they're sewn & the shop floor where they're sold, clothes often pass through seven hands. All those layers of people are taking their cut, which is a bit part of the reason that the garment workers are receiving a pittance, working in dangerous conditions.

So, what can we do? I think most of you readers out there are women, mostly moms. It's mothers who have the power when it comes to buying clothing. We shop for ourselves, our ever-growing children & often for our spouses too. So here are my suggestions for some concrete changes you can make.
  • Sign petitions & share them on social media. This one is asking for clothing manufacturers in Bangladesh to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement.
  • Ask questions. Ask clothing retailers where their clothing is made, what kind of standards are upheld. 
  • Ask about fair trade certification. 
  • Ask about vertical integration of production. American Apparel--whatever you think of their porny advertising--runs on a model of production that reduces all the middle men. That means that the people actually making the clothes get a decent wage. Why can't this work in Bangladesh too? Let's push for companies to take a more hands-on approach & stop leaving it to layers of middle men to source their clothing. This will mean more money in the hands of women & families in the developing nations where our clothes are made.
When I say 'ask', I mean write a letter if you have time (I know you probably don't--you're a mom, I get it), or send an email to Loblaws via this link. Find the social media profiles of the companies who make the clothes you buy & post questions on their Facebook page, tag them in tweets. You've got time for a tweet, right? Ask the staff in the stores where you shop.
I know I said boycotts aren't the answer, but here are some ways to save money on clothing without buying sweatshop-made fast fashion:
  • Repair, don't throw away! If you've got a stained t-shirt (either yours or your child's), turn a spaghetti sauce disaster into a one-of-a-kind applique. Tutorial here. (psst, I know it says you need a sewing machine, but you really could do it by hand)
  • Don't buy, swap! Getting hand-me-downs for kids or hosting clothing swaps for you & your friends can mean 'new' pieces for your wardrobe without spending a dime.
  • Buy local, if you can afford it. I like to, but rarely can justify spending a lot on clothing for myself, let alone Sprout, who will likely grow out of it in six months.
  • Buy used. My favourite children's store is Wee Ones Reruns, a consignment kids shop that's right around the corner from where I live. They've got a good selection of kids clothes from birth to about age nine--good quality stuff for low prices. There are tons of consignment & thrift stores everywhere, not to mention swap meets--check out your local one to see if you can find any gems for yourself.
Okay, that's my list of ideas for you. I'm not an expert, by any means, however. Have you got any more ideas? What do you think we should do?

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  1. Hi Lisa! Thanks for sharing ideas for what we can do to help. I've been searching for ways to be part of the solution since hearing about the building collapse. I've found out about a Toronto-based group called the Maquila Solidarity Network, that offers some ways to share your opinion on their website.

    I've learned that PVH (parent company to brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) and German retailer Tchibo are the only two companies that have signed on to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Agreement, so I've contacted them to thank them for doing so.

    One fun idea is to make your own clothes! Sewing is a skill that has been mostly lost, but it is having a resurgence in popularity these days.

    1. Thanks for the resources, Holly! I love sewing my own clothes, but it's hard to find the time now. Plus, Sprout really likes playing with my sewing machine; I can't leave him alone in the room with it for fear he'll sew his fingers together! ;)

  2. Great post Lisa. This has been on my mind and I haven't had the clarity to see how I can help make a difference. Thank you for this.

    1. Thanks, Fawn! It's a tricky one--just avoiding the 'cheap' brands isn't enough, since lots of higher end companies use underpaid workers in unsafe conditions like this too.


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