The Real Cost Of Cheap Labour
Maybe it's time we stop ignoring the expense of cheap labour. Sure - it means fast fashion for a fraction of the designer price, but it's costing lives.
Yesterday a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over 230 people with many more currently unaccounted for. Add this disaster to the factory fire in Bangladesh six months ago that took over 100 lives - as well as a second fire two months later that killed seven - and it's time for the fashion industry to start reevaluating its way of doing things.
"We are extremely saddened to learn of the collapse of the building in Bangladesh and our condolences go out to those affected by this tragedy," the statement reads. "Loblaws Inc. has vendor standards, which spell out the requirements of working with us to ensure that all products are being manufactured in a socially responsible way. We audit against these standards on a regular basis."
The New York Times and Toronto Star are both reporting that cracks in the building's foundation were discovered on Wednesday, but workers were still instructed to attend work on Thursday, despite urging from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to halt production. Now I'm not an investigative journalist and I don't know exactly who is responsible for forcing those workers back into a building deemed unsafe, but I do know this: we're all responsible until there is change.
When I studied fashion at Ryerson long ago, a required course was (and still is) Fashion in International Markets. I remember my jaw hitting the desk as I learned the truth behind the "Made In _____" tag. It's not as simple as it seems. There are about a million loopholes for getting the country you want on that tag. I won't get into the specifics, but it's tricky enough that I can't point fingers at consumers and ask them to simply read labels. The labels rarely tell the truth. Instead, we need to change the rules to ensure that manufacturers are transparent about the goods they put on the shelves.
There are things you can do—absolutely. Shop local, for one. And if you have the time, then research the practices of the stores you shop in. However, I'm disheartened to think of how many retailers, like Loblaws, Inc. will tell you that their products are being manufactured in a socially responsible way. And they might - like Loblaws, Inc. - honestly believe that to be true, because I do think that their statement is sincere. Until we get better systems in place, however, we may never know what really transpires in the concrete confines of those factories and whether or not that "made in _____" garment was a part of it.
Have your say! Would you pay more for apparel if you knew the factory workers were in better circumstances?
By: Laura; Photo by Keystone Press.