As I watched the top headlines on the weekend, I couldn’t helping being fixated on the footage of the eight-story commercial building that crashed down on top of helpless garment workers just near Dhaka in Bangladesh two years ago. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the footage, the news stories were to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy which happened on 24th April 2013, but each time I watch the stories of heartbroken mothers who have lost their children, who were probably making something that I have bought or from a fashion brand that I support, it feels more personal.
It’s hard to ignore the stories of the workers who were forced to work in a building that was reported to have serious structural damage, that could come crashing down at any minute. This was a factory that produced garments for some of the most well known brands, such as Mango, Primark, Le Bon Marché and Walmart. Due to threats that these employees would not be paid their wages for an entire month if they didn’t come to work, so they did. An hour after starting their shifts the building collapsed, and in under 90 seconds crushed more than 3 500 people. 1 133 people were killed, 2500 injured and at least 800 children orphaned.
In the aftermath, stories in the media began highlighting the horrific working conditions, illegitimately run and inadequately built factories, desperately awful pay, as well as the exploitation of employees as well as under-age workers.
To this day no-one has been held accountable – not the building owner, not the Bangladesh government, not any of the retailers whose merchandise was made there – nothing stands where the building fell and there are still bodies missing buried too deeply in the rubble.
Everybody loves fashion in some form – a luxury handbag, high street t-shirt or old pair of slippers – and with more and more clothing companies outsourcing their production to countries with cheaper labour costs and almost no worker protection rights there is no guarantee as to who is making our clothes and under what circumstances which makes us all accountable.
However, out of this horrific story there is some light. The industry, governments, companies and consumers are finally coming together to ask questions and create awareness around WHO the individuals are that are making our clothes.
So what has been done in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy?
Last year, to mark the first anniversary of the disaster, a group of fashion activists, Carry Somers, Orsola de Castro, Lucy Siegal and Livia Firth launched the now annual “Fashion Revolution Day”, which calls for consumers like you and I to share photos on social media showing the labels on our clothes and the hashtag #fashrev – to create awareness on the true cost of fashion and calls for more transparency in the fashion industry supply chain, in the hope that consumers will be encouraged to ask retailers where their merchandise comes from.
www.fashionrevolution.org’s mission statement says it best, “On 24th April each year, Fashion Revolution Day will bring everyone in the fashion value chain together and help to raise awareness of the true cost of fashion, show the world that change is possible, and celebrate all those involved in creating a more sustainable future.”
This year, the campaign has been taken a step further. Once again driven by The Fashion Revolution, now a global coalition of designers, academics, writers, business leaders and parliamentarians, and again using social media as the main driver, we’re encouraged to get involved by taking a snap of your item of clothing with the label showing and uploading it to any of your preferred social media platforms, but this time tagging the brand and asking the question “Who made my clothes?”
Along with this campaign, this coalition of revolutionaries has also launched the initiative, #TraceMyFashion. Which aims to promote transparency within fashion supply chains. The project intends to track and document changes that are occurring within the industry to make significant improvements in the ready-made-garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh. They want to “rally the high street, the high end, the innovators, the fashion students, the media, the public, the activists, the makers, the wearers – and everyone in between.”
What does TraceMyFashion mean exactly?
As a start, there have been a few of these large RMG companies, like BexTex and Desh Garments as well as social initiatives like Living Blue and Friendship Bangladesh, who have willingly come forward and been transparent about their brand, supply chain and the steps they are taking to improve their factories – in particular the wages and safely of their workers in order to form more ethical practices for the future. The long-term plan is to add Audit firm certificates (from Accord and Alliance for example) to these companies forcing the whole industry to eventually comply with higher ethical standards protecting all RMG workers. As the TracemyFashion website reads, “The positive side is that various stakeholders in the RMG industry are actively taking part in improving the overall situation because they want to remain on top of this billion dollar industry and gradually aim to achieve even a higher standard through ethical practices within their capacity. Since the movement has begun, change is inevitable.”
The Fashion Revolution is compelling us to care about the person who is literally making the shirt on our back, from the farmer who grew the cotton to the machinist who sewed each thread. There are now over 65 countries taking part in this uprising, which is a step to show the world that change is possible and hopefully build a more ethical fashion industry with a sustainable future. “We at #FASHREV, believe in a fashion industry that values the people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measures. Our mission is to bring everyone together to make that happen.”
So, as I get dressed today, tomorrow and the next I’m going to think about all the people who have been involved in creating the beautiful clothes that I’ll be wearing. To be conscious of the fact that I am the last person in a long line, that involves hundreds of “invisible individuals”, to touch the items that I put on.
That I can make a difference, be more mindful and outspoken about where my clothing comes from and that a fair portion of the price I pay for the article goes to creating a safe environment and a better life for the individuals producing the item, and not just lining the pockets of retailers and shareholders.
I hope you will too.
Educate yourself more and get involved…
Andrew Morgan’s groundbreaking film, soon to be released. Watch the trailer…