This week, Panorama aired the latest series of Dying for A Bargain – a documentary on the plight of the mutli billion pound garment industry in Bangladesh. Its focus was to highlight the issues concerning fast fashion, to delve into the world that we don’t see or contemplate when we look at the label on our clothes. The documentary put to light the gritty reality of the real cost of fast fashion – and the price is far from pretty.
While I witnessed garment workers forced to work illegal hours covering staggering 19-hour shifts and locked inside the building, I couldn’t help but wonder who’s responsible for the well-being of these exploited workers? On one side, no doubt it’s the western world that has propelled fast, cheap fashion to the forefront of our high-streets, but on the other hand the Bangladeshi government are doing little to nothing to address the issue of tyranny imposed by local factory owners.
Somehow there needs to be a way to control both sides of the coin.
Just this week protests turned violent after 50 union strikes were injured as they fought for the minimum wage (an unliveable £23 a month), to be increased. But their attempts for change are futile, and their voices go unheard. Owner of Syntex Knitwear Omar Chowdhury told the Financial Times “There will be some fallout from (a rise in the minimum wage) and it may enforce us to re-examine our competitiveness.” This statement sums up the harsh reality of a deeply flawed government.
For many high street stores low cost production is above all, with worker’s rights at the bottom of the priority list, however those like H&M who encourage transparency in their supply chain and set codes of conduct such as work hours and safety regulations, are dismissed by unscrupulous factory owners eager to keep their business at the top. Some labels like Bershka were not even aware that their clothing was being produced in certain factories, until their labels were found in a factory fire among the rubble.
Here remains the problem. As long as there is fast fashion there is exploitation, but even as we as consumers try to shop more consciously and stores become aware that sustainability needs to be enforced, nothing can change if the Bangladeshi Government fails to move forward with us. Just how many Rana Plaza type incidents must take place before the cogs in the overworked and under-oiled machinery falls apart?
Click here to sign the 1% campaign asking major fashion companies to donate 1% of profits to end exploitation in the industry.