Ten years after Rana Plaza, there is still too little insight into where and under what circumstances our clothing is made.
It’s been 10 years, yet ‘slave-free’ garments are still anything but normal in the textile industry and there is still too little insight into where and under what conditions our clothing is produced. Fast fashion, with constantly changing collections that are made quick and cheap, is the biggest problem.
Improvements have certainly been made, but how many human lives have been improved, and how many lives are still in danger every day in textile factories, and how many people are working in modern slavery conditions, we don’t know.
On April 24, the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. More than 1100 people died and 2500 were injured. About 5000 people worked in the building, mainly at textile factories, for major international brands such as Benneton, Bonmarché, Cato Fashion, Mango, Primark and Walmart.
After the disaster came the multi-stakeholder and legally binding partnership: the Bangladesh Accord, which aims to identify safety issues and mobilize resources to address health and safety risks in industrial buildings in the garment sector.
There have been many more collaborations with the brands, civil society, trade unions and multi-stakeholder initiatives in that decade. There are initiatives to train employees in safety, and after Rana Plaza, ‘building safety’ checks have also been added to inspections for audits and certification. Legally, brands are obliged to pay for safety inspections and relevant remediation actions.
But it is still not enough, there is still a lot of insight missing. For the Dutch economy, 13.8 million non-Western workers are still working in servile conditions, some of them in the clothing industry. We have far too little insight into that.
The biggest problem is that the clothing industry has very complex supply chains and purchasing practices. There are several collections and therefore many products in a year and the products follow the fashion trends and are therefore sometimes in green and then in blue and then with embroidered applications and then with leather. This is a system error that we can fix using consumer purchasing power.
Fast fashion must be contained. And not just the companies like Mango and Primark, but mainly the even faster fashion emerging Chinese fast fashion e-retailers like Shein. For example, Shein releases 700 to 1000 new products per day. If we stopped buying fast fashion, many problems could be solved. The consumer therefore has a lot of influence, but unfortunately realizes this far too little.
In addition, it is essential to better train buyers on how to make sustainable choices in their purchasing process. And there must be much more transparency in the chains, so that we have a really good overview of what is happening in the factories. Nothing can be claimed about sustainability, working conditions, or living wages, unless it is not clear what the active production location of the product is. To illustrate: the minimum wage in the garment sector in Bangladesh is 69 euros per month. Trade unions and employees would like to have double that in order to have a living wage. You can only produce slave-free with chain insight. How and under what conditions buyers purchase can have a major negative but also positive effect on the working conditions and salaries of workers.
The new International Corporate Social Responsibility (ICSR) law must be adopted in the Netherlands, so that companies become responsible for what they do worldwide. Europe is also working on legislation, but that will probably take years. The Netherlands can prepare for EU legislation with its own legislation. This gives Dutch companies that produce fairly a head start. A number of major brands are already publicly standing up to support the law, such as Ikea, Hak, Kruidvat and Triodos. Finally, it is a good idea to reward companies that do well.
In short, there are still many changes before our clothing is made honestly and responsibly. These changes affect us all, from consumers to factory workers in Bangladesh, and all parties involved in between.