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Five Years On From Rana Plaza Collapse. Has Anything Changed?
- Gaynor Humphrey
It is now 5 years since 1130 workers were killed when their factory building collapsed. Over 2500 were injured, many seriously but have we learnt anything from this horror?
Firstly lets celebrate those companies who stood up and helped. Primark donated more than $7 million to charities and organisations helping the survivors of the disaster, by far the biggest single donation of any retailer. Of the 31 brands who were identified as sourcing from the factory 8 paid more than $1million each to help the workers.
After the disaster the Accord of Fire and Building Safety, a group mainly comprised of European retailers, agreed to inspect the factories they used and help them put right any fire issues that were identified. This has been an undoubted success with some claiming that Bangladesh now has the safest ready made garment industry of any developing country.
But when the initial 5 year period was up in Jan 2018, and the agreement came to be renewed, many retailers, including Sainsburys, refused to re-sign due to concerns about escalating costs and lack of support from factories and the Bangladesh government.
Although its easy to point the finger at retailers we do still have to come back to the responsibility held by the consumer. A survey in 2014 found that although 80% of consumers wanted the brands they bought from to be ethical their main reason for buying still came back to price (40% of respondents), value (30%) and quality (16%).
A culture of throw away fashion has unfortunately grown up over the last decade driven by some leading retailers with an ability to sell an awful lot of cheap clothes plus the increasing popularity of social media. Another recent survey of 2000 women found that clothes were worn just 7 times before being thrown away for fear of an outfit showing up too frequently in social media pictures. Over 30% of women viewed clothes as old after just a couple of outings.
Another problem is that most consumers still think that they would have to pay significantly more for ethically produced products, and when times are hard they do not believe that they can afford the additional money. If you can only afford to buy one baby toy for a baby shower it doesn't help if you think it will cost you a lot more if its fair trade.
So if we are to move on to a place where a disaster such as Raza Plaza could not happen again we all have to take steps to improve the way products are manufactured.
Large retailers and governments must continue to improve safety standards in factories and not allow health and safety to take a back step.
As consumers we need to increase the pressure we put on retailers to ethically source and the only way we can do that is to buy from the ones who can prove they do. Price is not always a guarantee of ethics. Primark, H+M and ikea all have prove programs to check their supply base and improve where need be. They are not perfect but they are a lot better than many out there!
Retailers must promote fair trade clothes and other products as available to all and not just to those with more disposable income. The Pebble fair trade baby toys we sell are all handmade and gorgeous but are definitely the same value for money as any others toys. Under the Nile organic baby comforters retail fro less than £10 but are organic and fair trade. We need to push the message out that you don't have to make a sacrifice to buy fair trade products, they represent just as good value as products made in the normal manner.
And we all need to move away from throw away consumerism. It shouldn't matter if people see your outfit, or your baby's outfit more than 7 times. If you really can't face it then teaming it with different accessories etc should do the trick because most people don't remember what we wear anyway!