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Western fashion - the price payable in human life

I am sure many of you will be aware of the devastating collapse of a Factory outside Dhaka in Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing 300+ of the 3,122 workers, with many more still trapped alive. (Figures from Reuters.com 26th April)

Ethically produced clothing and products is something at the heart of Gecko so in the light of this news I wanted to look at it in a bit more detail.

I wish I could say I was shocked to learn that clothing manufacturers, that accommodated much  of the 8 story building, were advised on Tuesday to send their employees home:

"We asked not to open the factories and told them we will send our engineer, and until you get the green signal don't open the factories," Islam told Reuters. Mohammad Atiqul Islam is president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)

They did send their employees home on the Tuesday, only to force them back to work on the Wednesday, resulting in the 3rd major industrial incident in 5 months in Bangladesh. Similar incidents killed 60+ in 2005 and 25 died in 2010. THIS IS NOT AN ISOLATED INCIDENT.

Copyright: Reuters

It’s worth mentioning that a bank was based on the first floor of this building and its employees were sent home and kept there.

Is the need for cheap clothes this great? Is fashion more important to the West than human lives?

I caught a bit of Jeremy Vine’s BBC2 show on Thursday and listened back online (139 minutes in), he was joined by Ross Clark, columnist for The Times and The Spectator and Baroness Jenny Tom, the Liberal Democrat peer. I would like to reply to some of Ross Clark’s comments first:

“… shows up huge deficiencies in the building standard regulations in Bangladesh. It would be a tragedy itself if this was exploited by those trying to undermine globalisation, who want clothes to be made in the West.”

Being outraged that this level of ethical atrocity can occur in the name of cheap fashion for the Western High Street has nothing to do with trying to undermine globalisation! We trace the ethical and environmental implications of everything at Gecko, we only stock T-shirts at the moment, but they are made in India. We are not against globalisation at all, we just value human life and the sustainability of our planet above profit margins as do many other companies out there. To support and campaign for improved ethical conditions has nothing to do with “protecting Western jobs” as he goes on to comment.

There are plenty of organisations out there, such as Fair Wear, working with factories to maintain fair and safe working conditions for employees in developing countries and elsewhere. Giving buyers such as Primark the simple option of managing their production ethically and efficiently.

“Everybody in the West is acutely aware of the bad publicity that this sort of incident brings”

This shouldn’t be their driver! The loss of human life, the appalling conditions people have to work in for a pittance, all in the name of Western fashion should be the driver. Having a conscience should be the driver!

Copyright: Reuters

“You cannot expect developing countries to instantly have the same standards as we have elsewhere in the West.”

Perhaps not, but again there are organisations working in these countries to develop safe and fair working conditions.

I liked Baroness Jenny Tom’s comments comparing the industry’s problems to those faced in the Blood diamond industry.

In address of some of the comments by listeners:

Listener 1, who didn’t feel guilty as they can only pay the amount asked in the shop, they would look daft trying to pay above that.

I wouldn’t for a minute suggest you to do that; if you did that money would not find its way to the families bereft of their loved ones. I would suggest that you take an interest in where your products are made and how. By supporting the companies that take the same interest and care to make sure there products are made in a safe and fair way you are standing up to these atrocities. Companies like Primark will be forced to respond and grow a conscience in their supply chain. You have power in your buying, use it! The blood is on the hands of the companies supporting it, but also the buyer for turning a blind eye.

Listener 2, who stated that boycotting the companies that exploit people in these ways and put their very lives in danger, would leave these people out of work. By buying from these companies you are actually supporting them in their employment.

To you I say “Get out of DeNile and into the boat”. I have had this debate with my parents who visited Sri Lanka and saw first-hand how desperate the people were for a penny to support their family and an opportunity to earn that and support their families and feed them. So your solution would be that we continue to exploit them? Leave them orphans when their parents die in these conditions? After all they could just work themselves at the age of 6. Alternatively, we could support the factories that treat people fairly, forcing more companies to use these factories, forcing these factories to grow and forcing a revolution in the industry.

Copyright: Reuters

And finally, Michael McConaughhey (From the BBC Radio 2 Facebook post on the topic):

“They might be grateful that they have jobs, but corporations like Primarks have a responsibility to ensure that the working conditions/environments are safe. We can't all just go washing our hands of responsibility from this kind of tragedy. We (maybe indirectly) are responsible for this and Primarks (and others) should make a stand. We all live together on this planet and life is just as important to the people working in Bangladesh as it is to anyone else in the world - Billionaires included. Try to put yourself in their place and see how you would feel about this. Imagine losing a wife, husband, child, parent under the same circumstances. Or maybe how you would feel buried alive under the thousands of tons of rubble that are now killing hundreds. We should feel guilty and ashamed and more importantly, we should make a stand and ensure that we only buy goods that are made in a safe way. It may cost us a little bit more but then we are safe in comparison and should be grateful for that.”

There were a few more along these lines. You are our heroes, have a standing ovation from Gecko you legends.

I would very much like to hear what others peoples opinion on this so please get in touch, lets discuss, I’ll bring the biscuits.

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