Friday, October 31, 2014

Darkness of garment manufacturer

 Rana Plaza, the manufacturer for Joe Fresh had a deadly collapse April 2014. Tragically, it killed more than 1, 100 employees and many workers are still suffering physically and mentally as a result of the horrible accident. Garment factories in Pakistan caught fire; 257 people were killed and more than 100 people  was dead in a garment factory just few months earlier before that, Rana Plaza  collapsed and there are many pure sad news around industry.  As a former garment production manager myself,  I have been to a lot of factories and this tragedy did not surprise me much although I was really so sad about It. How can we improve garment industry in Southeast Asia which has the lowest labour cost? What are the changes needed to make the manufacturers more safely? There are solutions although it is not easy.

First of all, most factories are located in Southeast Asia also called “developing countries” have to realize how important safety in the manufacturing is by themselves. In the investigation, most garment buildings have problems about safety. “Most of the buildings just need major, major upgrades and it is not necessarily something that Loblaw can do on its own” said Liana Foxvog, director of organization and communications at International Labour Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group (2014).  Approximately 50% in 2012, North America’s clothing market relied on Asian manufacturers especially China at that time. Just after that tragedy happened, some people voice up and to boycott Joe Fresh, however, this does not help any manufacturers who depend on their profits oversea buyers. Because it is a fact that most developing countries rely on their profit on garment area and it is a huge benefit for an own country. I had a chance to interview an outsourcing director of Haggar Canada, Fuad Reza, who is from Bangladesh and have been worked in apparel industry for 25years. When I asked him that Western people take advantage when they buy cheap clothes were made in developing countries like China, his answer was “no” surprisingly. And he explained me that “being cheap depend on materials, size of order volume, negotiation between producer and buyers, etc”. so he did not agree with me. I thought that could be true because it is obvious that Southeast Asia countries offer the lowest labor cost for garment industry. Anyhow let’s go back the safety issues. Southeast Asia has huge volume of orders internationally and domestically and they may find it difficult to pay attention to safety. In addition, garment market usually requests quick responses so they are in a hurry all the time. Actually, the Rana plaza which had eight stories was collapsed due to over stock. To stop hearing fatal, tragedy news like Rana plaza, government  have to make strict laws so, factories have to pass in order to manufacture. Mr. Reza said that “government has to have a specific law about factory’s safety issues and they have to keep monitor about it”. He insists that “it is only way to stop safety issue”. He also mentioned that “brand company has to send their own employee to the factory to keep check environment of factory”. Oversea buyers may have difficulty checking their factories daily because they are far away from them. It is an important issue governments need to co-operate with buyers to make strict codes for employees of the factory. Strict coding is not only important but regular investigation is also required due to the manufacturers.  As we consider environment of factory, more employees should be hired to investigate factories’ safety. Otherwise factories were losing their attention on safety issues.  Mr.Reza said “there is nothing important than this issue”. He point out that “the factory should not be given any orders if a factory is found not following the rule”. 

The garment employees need to be treated ethically at least. According to the article “Can Loblaw Live Up To Its Promises in Bangladesh?” by  Delange, Jacqueline on Feb. 13th 2014“most workers earn as little as $38 a month in Bangladesh and there are probably lower incomes than $38 in many countries.  Mr. Reza said “that Bengali income is raised a lot but he also agrees that minimum wage is probably like that and it have to be raised”. North American market sells pricy merchandise while they pay low wages to employees and brand company still seek factories that a lower labor cost. Does it make sense to you?  According to “Garment industry hit by competition from low-cost rivals” by Ngan Anh from Thanh Nien News, this industry suffers competitive low cost rival (2014). Here is another problem that factories also need to reduce overworking time.  As they need to work over time by high volume orders but many people could not pay for over time. Besides payment, few factories still treat their employees like slaves.  According to “Slavery: just a 'regrettably unavoidable' aspect of business? “by McQuade , The situation is equally bad in the factories of Delhi in north India where children are routinely employed to do embroidery work (2014). Mr. Reza also said that “although this is not problem in just apparel industry and there is no way people are treated like sawing machine and children involve to work”. There could be more bad situations all around the world and I wanted to point out that garment industry needs to reduce overnight jobs and give them value of their own life. And I am sure factory has to be monitored by provided law and not only factory but also buyer have to have social responsibilities for any issues.

How can we improve the environment of garment industry to have power by trade unions? Employee of Rana Plaza had to go to work despite the fact that the building was not safe. Farah Kabir, Bangladesh country director of ActionAid, a global anti-poverty advocacy organization, said “if they had trade unions, this would not have happened” (2014). As the world gets global, trading is getting bigger. A lot of developing countries like Bangladesh do not have strong unions to protect their own people and this may look like many people face troubles.  Even though there are some changes happening in last decades, this appetite is not enough. All governments  especially developing countries’ one  need to realize how important their trade unions are and seek to work for better trading business gradually. Mr.Reza spoke up when he talked about this. He said that “government role is very important for manufacturing’s safety and these issues should be on the top of agenda especially if he considers Bangladesh”.

I could not ignore the environment of factories I have seen. I still question myself that I could work with that condition I saw in the factories. Southeast Asia has high temperature all the time but factories did not have air conditioners. There are also sawing machinery which are occupied most space of the building and add hot air. Safety issues are the most emergent issues they need to fix and the environment also needs to be ethical that employees work with fair conditions. Government, buyers and factories themselves need to cooperate for all these issues and solve the problem. Otherwise, there is no guarantee we will not wake up next morning with tragic news from somewhere again.

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