May We Never Forget
On this day three years ago 1134 people were killed and another estimated 2500 were injured in a fashion tragedy that should never have happened. These people were lead into a building that others around them had decided was too unsafe to work in. They were told that the building was ‘fine’ and that the clothes they were producing had to be made on time. That if they didn’t come to work that day others would take their jobs. Like many of us would, these garment factory workers went to work because they had to make ends meet. Sadly, their deaths were the result of an industry that has been hiding a disregard for human lives behind a veil of advertorial. Fashion Revolution day commemorates these workers and all those who have, and do suffer for the sake of our fashion by encouraging you to ask #whomademyclothes of your favourite labels via social media. The more we ask for transparency the more that brands have to come clean about their manufacturing processes. The following are some tools to help you get more active in the Fashion Revolution process through an increased understanding of the industry.
How To Ask Nicely.
Did you mother ever tell you that manners will get you far in life? If she did then she deserves a great big hug. Why? Because being polite and kind is a really good way to get a response from the labels you love most. The people who answer your emails or curate the social media feeds for your favourite labels are people just like you. They are doing their job, work hard, and at the end of the day want to feel good about what they are doing. They likely love the label they work for and appreciate the beautiful designs that are put forth, just the way that you did when you purchased the item you choose to ask them about. So speak to them as if they are a friend, give them benefit of the doubt that their label does have good manufacturing practices and they just haven’t bothered to advertise this. You can check out my action plan post here to see how you go about asking your fave labels #WhoMadeMyClothes via social media, but when you don’t hear back from them it’s best to follow up with an email. The following is a template that you can use to coincide with your social media campaign, and/or follow up if you don’t hear from the label.
Hi Team or [Insert Designers Name Here}
I’m just touching base to say hello, introduce myself, and commend you on your beautiful designs. My name is [name here] and I really love and appreciate the effort that you put into bringing yourbrands vision into stores for customers like myself and I would like to know more about how these designs come to life. I’m not sure if you are aware of the Fashion Revolution Day campaign or not, but on the 24th of April 2013 a building that housed a garment factory collapsed causing the death of 1134 people and 2500 more were injured. On the anniversary the collapse of the Rana Plaza we are encouraged to ask our favourite labels to share how their clothing is made in order to increase the transparency of the fashion industry supply chain.
I was wondering if you could provide me some details on how my favourite [insert brand here] [insert items type here] was made. I have tried to get in contact with you via social media as I would love to thank the people who turned your ideas on paper into my real life object. I assumed you must have missed my social media prompt and decided to reach out to you via email. Brands who are sharing where they are at with their manufacturing process are being commended by the folks at Fashion Revolution for their openness and honesty and celebrated across Global media for taking steps towards a more safe, secure, and sustainable fashion industry. No matter where you are at with your manufacturing processes it is openly encouraged by customers like myself, that you share how your garments are made and be at the forefront of this World-wide movement to change the industry for the better.
Thanks in advance for your participation and transparency and I look forward to hearing more from you very soon.
Keep up the great work.
Try to use an email subject line that will encourage the team to open your email. Something like ‘An Inquiry About Your Beautiful Products’ will be more effective than ‘I WANT TO KNOW IF YOU MAKE YOUR PRODUCTS IN SWEATSHOPS’. The person opening the first email title will be more calm and responsive about your enquiry than if they were to receive the second one. While it would be nice to be ‘head-on’ about the urgency of these types of issues (especially when you are passionate about getting a response), there is a good chance your email might just end up in the trashcan with an aggressive title like that.
Some Facts You Can Use in Your Conversations Today.
There is a good chance that you may have a conversation or two today about the Fashion Revolution. It can be pretty difficult to bring up a tragedy like this among friends, acquaintances and strangers but the more we talk about it the less shadow there is over these not-so-desirable practices. The best tool I can provide you with today are some facts I typed out from the Clothes to Die for documentary that was a difficult but eye opening and highly recommended watch. These facts come straight from the mouthes of those who were involved in the events that lead up to the day, and the survivors of the disaster.
- We now buy three times as many clothes as we did 30 years ago
- The Collapse of Rana Plaza is one of the worst industrial disasters of the 21st century
- The garment industry is the biggest earner of Bangladesh’s 150 Million strong population
- The industry accounts for almost 80% of the countries exports
- Bangladesh’s garment industry was set up in 1979 by Noorul Quader, a former civil servant with the ideal of it being an economic backbone for the nation.
- Wages for garment workers pre-collapse were around five pounds per week.
- The garment industry trade is worth around 15 billion pounds per year.
- Sohel Rana, a powerful, brash and forceful business man who built his empire by selling of land for development was the man behind the development of the Rana Plaza. He was well connected to politicians and controlled the youth wing of Bangladesh’s ruling party. His party protected him and intimidated rivals and is reported to have inspired fear in factory workers.
- The Rana Plaza was opened in 2009 that provided up to 5000 new jobs for garment workers. At the time of opening there was a boom in clothing exports as they were growing by more than 20% per year. This boom resulted in adding three extra floors to the Rana Plaza building and the installation of heavy generators in the upper levels.
- The companies in Rana Plaza were reported to be making clothing for more than 20 western companies.
- Child labour and excessive hours were banned but with so many different buyers it is suggested that it could be easy for the suppliers to cheat on these rules. One of the women interviewed, Shirin Akter Kajol admits to being underaged when she first started working at Rana Plaza saying that she would be hid in the toilet when buyers visited the factory. Another worker, Rojina Begum reports being kept at work until midnight and returning home to sleep at 2am only to be woken up to be back at work again at 5am.
- Pressure to meet orders for fast fashion on time and on budget are the reason that so many corners are cut in the manufacturing process.
- 100 workers were killed in a factory fire at the Tazreen Factory as there were not fire escapes and some exits were locked. This tragedy is the reason that so many people were concerned when the crack appeared in the Rana Plaza building.
- Workers at Rana Plaza were expected to produce around 100-120 units per hour.
- On the week of the collapse the workers were busy making garments for shipment for Primark, Store Twenty One, and Loblaw
- The day before the collapse cracks had appeared in a pillar and the roof of the third floor of the building and managers and workers were concerned that the structure would collapse. Work was halted until engineers had checked the structure.
- Journalist Nazmul Huda was called by garment workers to come to the scene and he filmed the cracked pillar before being kicked out by Rana’s people. Rana (seemingly drunk at the time) eventually agreed to an interview with Nazmul and stated that there was nothing wrong with the pillar and that there was just some plaster coming off. Despite pleas from Rana, Huda reported on the damage in the building on national television, and another newspaper article by another journalist published the day of the event.
- Ignoring the news warnings and the fact the bank on the ground floor being closed due to the building being unsafe, garment factory workers were told they were to return to work as per usual on the day of the collapse. Reluctant garment workers were told by factory managers that the building will not collapse due to one cracked pillar and that engineers have guaranteed it for 100 years. Those who were still resisting were told that their salaries for the remainder of the month will be withheld if they didn’t go to work.
- At 8.45 am a loud noise was reported, the lights went out and the generators kicked in vibrating the structure and in 90 seconds the building had collapsed trapping thousands of people inside the debris.
- As emergency services couldn’t cope with the scale of the collapse many of the resumes were carried out by volunteers who were asked to perform unthinkable acts (like Monir who was asked to perform an amputation on a trapped survivors ankle) in order to free victims.
- The heat of mid summer forced survivors trapped for hours or days to drink their own blood or urine to quench their thirst.
- The hunt for survivors and bodies continued for three weeks after the collapse
- After the collapse garment factory workers rioted and world media focus was on the Bangladesh fashion industry. This resulted in a nation wide hunt for Rana who was found four days later attempting to cross the border to India. Since the collapse most western companies have pleaded to inspect factories and the garment worker wage has doubled (to £40 per month, one of the lowest in the world).
- Some retailers that used the factory offered compensation to the workers and the families of the workers. However, the families of workers who went missing are not entitled to any compensation due to a lack of ‘proof’ that the family member went missing as a result of the faculty collapse.
- A year after the collapse they were still finding human remains in the blood soaked clothing and debris at the Rana Plaza site.
- Fears are that demands for increased per unit prices from buyers will result in international buyers taking their manufacturing to a cheaper country. Putting millions of workers, women in particular, out of work.
- There is optimism for the future of the garment industry in Bangladesh as a way forward to support the economic growth of one of the poorest countries in the world.
- In the year following the collapse garment exports from Bangladesh increased by 16%