Fashion Under Fire
Browsing the Faded Glory line on Wal-Mart's website you’ll be amazed at the prices. You can find a dress for $9, $15 for a pair of jeans, and $6 for a 100% cotton blouse. What a steal! Or is it a murder? Last January seven women lost their lives in a factory fire in Bangladesh. Two months before that an even worse fire caused the death of an estimated 112 people in another Bangladesh factory. This has led many to ask, what is the real cost of cheap fashion?
Since 2005 more than 600 people have been killed in factory fires in Bangladesh. The most horrific fire happened last November, at the Tazreen Fashion Ltd. factory. Some victims burned, others jumped to their deaths. The factory was on the upper floors of the building. According to a survivor, when people first started smelling smoke the managers told the workers to stay in their places and that it was just a drill. Shortly after that the lights went out. When people started to panic and try to escape they soon discovered that the fire had spread to the stairs. Not only that, there were also insufficient exits, some of which had been locked. At least 112 people died.
In the burnt wreckage, garments baring the labels of Disney, Sears, Dickies, and Wal-Mart’s private label Faded Glory were all found. When contacted by the major news networks all the companies implicated claimed that they had done their sourcing through a third party and that they thought they had stopped doing business with the manufacturer months ago. The rights group Worker Rights Consortium’s Scott Nova says otherwise, telling ABC News “they know exactly what is going on in these facilities; they have staff on site in Bangladesh.”
But what makes Bangladesh such a hot bed for factory fires? Right now Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes, and with multiple sources claiming the “end of cheap China” Bangladesh is poised to eventually become number one. This is due primarily to the incredibly low wages. The average worker makes $37 a month. Almost all the facilities that went up in flames were either behind in their inspections or the government had no idea it even existed. A major problem is corruption. According to Transparency International, Bangladesh is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The advocacy group said the main problem was that “no real effort” was put into fighting corruption. This makes it easy for the factories and the international companies to skate by.
As consumers our only power is through our dollar. We must therefore focus our scrutiny on the companies that use such labour practices. Another reason why Bangladesh is so desirable for companies is because when things go wrong, there is very little financial risk for them. When Tommy Hilfiger was involved with a factory that caught fire last year ABC News tried to talk to Hilfiger about why his brand is involved in such labour practices and why even after the tragedy the company has not pulled production out of Bangladesh. The designer gave a vague statement about how all facilities are now up to the “gold standard” and promised a mere $10,000 to the families of each victim.
We must ask ourselves, “do these companies really need such low labour costs”? Most of the brands found to have manufacturing in Bangladesh are the ones setting the unreasonably low prices that other brands must struggle to compete with. One could understand this if a young company that is trying to keep up with behemoths like Wal-mart or H&M would resort to such desperate sourcing tactics. That for the most part however, is not the case. Wal-Mart, Sears, and H&M are all known to have production in low paying Bangladesh factories. These companies are the same ones squeezing well made products out of the market place, in exchange for cheap clothing that tares in a day. They don’t need these low prices to survive. Nobody needs a $9 sun dress to survive, but garment workers do need a safe work environment and a livable wage.