Listening to Rana Plaza testimony from workers and relatives of the dead

After visiting the Dominican Republic and free trade zones in the 90s, I already believed I knew the level of poverty garment workers experienced, but my recent Bangladesh trip courtesy of People Tree’s founder Safia Minney was a wake up call.

Beatings, 16 hour days, unsafe conditions and wages that don’t cover the cost of living is standard for Dhaka women working in the fast fashion factories that supply our clothes.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, the Rana Plaza survivors told me they tried repeatedly to alert authorities to the unsafe structure of the building which had huge cracks in it from a wrongly sited generator before it collapsed on top of them. They were forced by owners to go into the building each day with the threat of losing a whole month’s pay.

Who takes responsibility for this appalling unkindness, exploitation and tragedies like Rana Plaza?

Not the Unions. Why?

Amirul Haque Amin of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) explained that workers attempting to unionise are instantly dismissed.

Not the Bangladesh Government  who decided to pass off  the building collapse as an ‘Act of God,’ and waiver offers of outside help. Why? 

Arosh Ali of Rana Plaza Victims Support UK is lobbying to reform the Corporate Manslaughter Act 1860 to reflect the ethos of human rights and redefine the definition of Act of God in its use as a legal defence.

Not our favourite stores like Benetton and Gap who have not yet paid any compensation to the relatives of the dead bread winners, whose wages no longer support the families. Why?

John Hilary from War on Want  highlights the 38% decrease in the cost of women’s clothing since the early 90s together with the massive profits made by these large chain stores and asserts we must share the benefits with the worker too. Compensation avoidance and insufficient wages are a disgrace. Fair Trade is the answer.

Not us the wearers? Why?

Lucy Siegle, ethical journalist at Observer explains that companies are secretive about their data around sourcing cost and profit margin but consumers could insist on transparency from their favourite brands to force the discrepancies out into the public arena.

If we decide we are all in this, we can be part of the solution not the problem. You and I can choose how we spend our money when we make the connection that more and more brands are cutting corners to deliver cheap fast fashion.

Last night as part of my talk at the Fashion Revolution day event I outlined how All Walks Beyond the Catwalk is also contributing by challenging the fashion mentality from a psychological perspective. We believe in mentoring creatives to work in a empathic way with the body and the wearer, we also mentor consumers to refuse a manipulative system that mines their insecurities for profit.

Caryn with Fair Trade workers who produce for People Tree

Fair Trade workers who produce for People Tree

If we can release western women from the belief that they need  cheap, fast fashion to anaesthetise the learned dissatisfaction even disgust they feel about their bodies and nurture them towards psychological health, we can encourage recognition that slow, fair trade fashion is better for everyone… especially the women of Bangladesh.