Injustices in the Garment Industry
Written by Isabella Grande
“Made in Thailand”–“Made in China”–“Made in Bangladesh”–“Made in Cambodia”
You may have seen these labels while shopping for clothes and at first glance they might have meant nothing to you. What many fail to realize is that in many cases, these cloth are often made by undervalued, underpaid, and voiceless employees of the garment industry. Some clothing stores, including major labels, still do not support fair wages, restrictions on child labor, and safe working conditions in their factories. Why? Because it means the labor is cheap and these factories get to undercut prices of other companies who may support safe working conditions and livable wages. It’s a race to the bottom. Looking at the 2013 catastrophe of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, it becomes clear why safe working conditions shouldn’t be a choice. For many, it can mean the difference between life and death.
Rana Plaza was an illegally built, eight story building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The entire building housed five separate factories all serving western clothing companies. The disaster’s chain of events started the night before the actual collapse of the building. Workers of the facility had reported two inch cracks in the walls and foundation of the building, which were only deepened by the constant vibrations the generators on the top floor produced. An inspector was called to examine the cracks, and he deemed the building unsafe shortly thereafter. However, the owner of the joint factories demanded the employee's return the next morning. Many people decided to go against the coercive managers telling them to show up despite the fact that they had been threatened with losing a month’s pay. Although many refused, most returned simply because they couldn’t afford not to. That morning the power went out. This was not uncommon as dozens of widespread outages happen every day in Dhaka, but when the generators came back on they shook the entire building. The entire building came down, floor by floor. The entire event was the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry. Over 1,100 people died in the Rana Plaza collapse. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident of negligence.
Despite the obvious atrocities that are apparent in the garment industry, companies such as Walmart and Gap rejected plans to pay factories more in order to raise wages of their factory workers. Another well-known company, H&M, allows their factories to conduct self-inspections at their leisure. As you can imagine, there is no one to hold the sub-contractor of the building responsible, and therefore allowing accidents to occur. Zara has also been known to use sweatshops in order to maximize profit, and it has been reported some of the factory workers make less than a dollar an hour. These low wages are also a major issue that should be at the forefront of a consumer’s mind. For many women this is the only type of work they can find due to social constraints and lack of education. They have no choice but to accept a small amount of money without overtime pay. In many cases the minimum wage is substantially lower than the cost of living. With more and more light being shined on factory conditions, there is hope that companies will end these horrific working conditions. As long as people refuse to support corrupt companies, shop ethically and become informed consumers, we can pave the way for change.
Edited by Jenna Caldwell