I pity the person who wants clothes so cheap that the man or woman who produces the clothes starves - or dies - in the process...
Watching the latest episode of Panorama, ‘Dying for a Bargain’, on the issue of the human cost of our desire for cheap fashion from Asia. How many times do these exposés have to happen before we sit up and take action?
In April it was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, big headlines and countless lives lost. So the international retailers raced to be seen to take action and protect their brands. In July, a raft of 70 retailers had signed a legally binding pact to conduct safety inspections at factories in Bangladesh. Retail giants, including the biggest buyer of Bangladeshi-made clothes, Sweden’s H&M and Benetton, Inditex, Metro, Carrefour, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Esprit and Abercrombie & Fitch, signed the agreement.
However, as of September 16th, little compensation has been paid to the workers of Rana Plaza, and just this week thousands of garment factory workers in Bangladesh are protesting over low wages. Bangladeshi workers are getting a minimum wage of $38 (£24, €28) per month, and they want this to be raised to $100. Meanwhile, factory owners are unwilling to increase wages beyond $45 per month, saying they are also hurt by rising production costs.
So has anything changed?
Last week Cambodia was in the news when workers were found to be ‘starving’ and suffering from ‘mass faintings’ because their wages were so low they could not afford to eat properly. According to the report, Shop ‘Til They Drop [pdf], 25% were found to be so underweight they would be classified as anorexic were they diagnosed in the UK. Yesterday, Panorama exposed a factory where workers are locked in for 19-hour shifts, and where the factory owner is clearly falsifying records. He is doing this so that when all the western retailers send their auditors in, the factory owner can pull the wool over their eyes.
The exploitation of people to satisfy our western desires has to stop – and auditing is NOT the solution.
Auditing is only a snapshot of reality… and it is only as good as the individual auditor. We at TFT believe that more sustainable solutions exist and there is a better way of doing business; supply chain transparency and engagement to transform. Here is how it works:
The retailer works in partnership with TFT, with the aim of gaining full transparency of the retailers’ supply chains. This must be from Tier 1 to Tier 101 if it’s that long – and must include all factories, sub-contractors, forests, plantations, quarries, etc. Top to bottom. TFT maps this and then visit the sites to understand what is happening and addresses any issues through support and ongoing capacity building. This is not one-off auditing; this is ongoing engagement to transform.
It works, it’s simple and clear and most of all, it is needed – we have to make it happen.