I have to admit, I did not know there was a factory fire in Bangladesh that killed more than 100 factory workers over this past weekend. I was in a Thanksgiving holiday all-consuming bubble (which is my family) so I was out of the loop for a few days. Last night one of our editors brought this article from CNN to my attention and after reading it, I knew I needed to think about it for a bit before I could write anything.
Apparently the factory, owned by Tazreen Fashions, produced clothing for U.S. supermarket giant Wal-Mart, European clothing retailer C&A and produced garments for several other companies, including Hong Kong sourcing firm Li & Fung. And it is just one of about 4,500 apparel factories in Bangladesh that employ an estimated 3.4 million workers, usually young women who work long hours dyeing, cutting and stitching for a minimum wage of approximately $43 a month.
I bet you know where this is going. Yes, the insatiable demand for fast-fashion is being blamed. Some say that the safety of these factory workers is being put at risk by global supply chains used by many of the world’s top clothing brands, which largely rely on cheap labor to turn a profit. Many times the jobs to produce are outsourced so the stores carrying these goods can’t say for certain where they were produced. Not that this is not really a good excuse. Yet, workers’ rights groups say factory bosses in places like Bangladesh often have little incentive to improve working conditions when contracts are short and orders not always renewed. It’s the classic case of supply versus demand. There are no unions there. There will not be a Hostess situation where the factory is at risk of closing if the workers revolt.
This situation is nothing new. According to Sanjiv Pandita, executive director at the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, more than 500 garment workers have died due to factory fires since 2006. Emergency exits are few in number and those often blocked by work in progress and poorly signposted. It’s a problem that goes beyond Bangladesh. Despite decades of campaigning by labor groups and tighter legislation, factories across Asia have proved to be deathtraps for their workers.
Personally I think fast-fashion sucks, but yes, I have bought items from H&M and even Forever 21 before. Yet, I do believe it is better to invest in quality items I will wear more than twice and then toss into the garbage. If Forever 21 doesn’t like what they are being charged to produce their cheap garments, they can just go somewhere else where the labor pool is cheaper.
The humanitarian in me says this is deplorable, but the business person in me says if there was no demand for these cheap items this problem would not exist. I see both sides. I can only chose to not buy these items. Yet, when I read the comments to the full article (linked below) I found myself feeling for both sides of the issue. Read it and the comments and please tell us what you think.
Read the entire article “Factory deaths highlight flaws in global supply chain” by Katie Hunt for CNN here.
– Lauren Dimet Waters