I have been following the news about the collapse of the clothing factory in Dhakar, Bangladesh with the loss (at the time of writing) of over 300 lives. Around 2,200 people have been rescued from the Rana Plaza building in Savar ,since its collapse on Wednesday (24.04.13) with hundreds of people are still missing.
I can not help wondering if we in the affluent west might have contributed to the tragedy, or done something more to help prevent it. My first thought about it was not a prayer for the victims and their families, although as a Christian it probably should have been, but I hope you will join me by praying for them now and giving also a prayer of thanks for the survivors and their rescuers.
This was one of the factories that supplied cheap clothing to us in the western countries. Primark has been referred to in the news as one of the companies that buys its clothing from factories like this and perhaps from this one. I assume it supplied goods to retailers in America and Europe too.
We do not often think about how cheap some of our clothes are or where they come from, until and unless a tragic event like this happens. Whilst the clothes might be cheap to us, in that clothing factory and others like it, the products are beyond the means of its employees to purchase.
Here, in the UK, and other ‘civilised’(?) countries, our poorest have no concept of the real, utter poverty in some of the places these cheap clothes are made. Places where starvation is common, where there are no fat poor. Where they do not know where the next meal will come from. And for the record, I am not poor, nor rich in terms of the wealth of the United(?) Kingdom, where I live. My income is slightly below the national average, which gives me what I think is a comfortable standard of living. In terms of some of the workers in middle eastern sweatshop factories, I live in luxury.
So should we buy clothes made by workers made in these sweatshops? It is a hard question to answer. If we buy their clothes we contribute more to the retailers profit, than to the pittance going to the employees of the manufacturer, whose wage is sometimes barely subsistence level. Yet If we do not buy their clothe,s many of those poor workers would have no employment at all, and so be even worse off than on the slave wage they now get.
I think we forget how many years it took in our ‘civilised’ part of the world before workers got rights, and could negotiate a fair wage and a safe working environment. In the UK we have the (sometimes overused or excuse for stopping something) Health and Safety at Work Act. As far as I know the workers in Bangladesh and other places like it do not enjoy anything like this protection. It is going to take time and income in the east and middle eastern countries to raise the standards for workers there but all the same, as consumers we have a duty to put pressure on the retailers to give their suppliers a fair deal and it is the duty of the retailers to source goods from factories that treat workers fairly, with improving of standards. It will not come over night.
Boycotting the retailers that buy from these factories might not help the sweatshop workers, just put more of the poorest out of work. It is up to us, the consumers of these cheap goods to think before we buy the next thing made in a sweatshop, to remember the conditions those workers labour under, to provide us with dirt cheap clothes. Then we must question our own and the retailers ethics and morals in getting those goods. It should be about more than just bigger profit for a retailer, like Primark (or insert appropriate name for your country) for example.
It is estimated that a Bangladeshi worker is paid around
£0.10 per hour (10 pence per hour UK, 13 cents US). At
that rate it would take over a week (assuming comparable
hours to a UK worker) to buy a £5.00 t-shirt that someone
on the minimum wage in the UK could buy for
less than one hour of work.
- Primark Factory In Bangladesh Collapses Killing 194 & Injuring Many Others [PHOTOS] (peacebenwilliams.com)
- Bangladesh building collapse reminds us of hidden cost of cheap clothes (telegraph.co.uk)