Home / General / Three Years After Rana Plaza. What Have We Done to Ensure that Our Clothing is Ethically Produced?

Three Years After Rana Plaza. What Have We Done to Ensure that Our Clothing is Ethically Produced?

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At least in terms of Americans, the answer to that question is basically nothing.

The collapse and dangerous and inhumane conditions at other facilities in Cambodia and elsewhere increased public outrage and demands that something be done.

Three years later, it turns out, not enough has been. New reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a consortium of advocacy groups and trade unions, say that safety and labor conditions are still lacking in Bangladesh and other countries that produce products for American retailers in shoddy buildings at bargain basement wages.

The reports, which were published in The New York Times, say that tens of thousands of workers still sew garments in buildings without proper fire exits. In Indonesia, India and elsewhere, pregnant women are vulnerable to reduced wages and discrimination. In Cambodia, workers who protested for an $20 a month were shot and killed, the wage alliance reported.

American retailers insist that they are paying close attention to the working conditions in factories they contract with to produce their goods and are attempting to force local owners to fix the problems and treat their workers better. But even the retailers admit that progress has been slow and subject to questionable delays.

Meanwhile, workers at these sweatshops remain in peril.

And this is unlikely to change, because basically we don’t care if people die making our clothing. Or our meat. Or anything else. It just doesn’t matter, so long as the prices are low.

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  • Katya

    If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend John Oliver’s piece on fast fashion.

  • DrDick

    As George Soros once said, our Spartan upbringing allows us to endure the suffering of others without complaint.

  • witlesschum

    The U.S. consumer’s addiction to cheap, imported consumer goods and politicians enabling of it are the root of many (most?) evils. I was just listening to an interview on Doug Henwood’s podcast with a woman who’d written about the trucking industry and same thing. If truckers were treated decently and protected from exploitation, the cost of everything would go up, so even sympathetic people are afraid of it.

    How the hell you create a political coalition around justice for people on the other side of the world among people in the U.S. who all benefit in the short term from the perpetration of the current injustices I don’t know.

    • Linnaeus

      They get jobs, we get cheaper stuff. Everybody wins!

  • First Time Caller

    Erik, I know you don’t advocate boycotts outside of very specific, worker-requested conditions, but in addition to the time consuming process of coalition building, what other actions would you recommend? Where are the right places to start?

    • were-witch

      There are no consumer/citizen actions to recommend or places to start. You’re not powerful enough to make a difference and you have no way to acquire that power.

      You could give up your life to pursue advocacy, if you’re good at fundraising, or politics, also if you’re good at fundraising.

      These people will suffer and there is nothing you can do about it as an individual. You can be aware of it and resent it, you can raise awareness and resentment in others, and you can hope for an opportunity for mass action to arise, to get the attention of the powerful. That’s it, really.

      • were-witch

        Either you care enough to abandon your life and risk your safety and security, or you don’t care enough to make a difference.

        Maybe Erik would have ended that sentence at “or you don’t care” period. I think there’s room in the middle for caring in the form of internally carried seething resentment with no hope of a productive outlet. It’ll eat you up inside, but that’s awareness for you.

      • Brett

        . . . I wouldn’t go that far. This is a low-publicity issue for the most part, so there actually might be some room for action if you can get a motivated group of people to lobby and organize on particular issues. We did manage to get that slavery loophole closed recently.

        Keep in mind that the cost increases for a lot of this safety and environmental stuff isn’t going to be that steep – it’s not like clothes at Walmart are going to suddenly double in price.

  • liberalrob

    And this is unlikely to change, because basically we don’t care if people die making our clothing. Or our meat. Or anything else. It just doesn’t matter, so long as the prices are low.

    We only care about things that impact us directly. Even then, we only care so long as the impact is fresh and recent. We quickly forget and move on.

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