By Christian Winch
Take a moment to consider how often you buy clothes.
Think of the reasons you have them and their purpose. A cursory glance could see it all as just sewn together fabrics or a product which maybe you spent a little too much money. This is all our clothes are when we first buy them, an item with a dollar amount and unrecognised potential. They are the tools we use which enable us to have a loud conversations with one another without needing to say anything.
Before being in your wardrobe these clothes may have already had an epic journey sourced from alien places. It is literally impossible to trace all of the lives it has passed through to reach you now. We are happy to pay exorbitant amounts of money for something which looks good in that moment but we should really wonder where this money is going and all too rarely do we pause to think what stories they can tell...
One of the loudest story-tellers is global sourcing firm, Li & Fung, who supply 40% of all apparel sold in the US, generate $25 billion in revenue each year and source their materials from over 15,000 producers with factories in China, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Li & Fung’s charred labels were found in the ruins of the Tazreen factory fire which occurred five months prior to the Rana Plaza collapse. The factory, located on the outskirts of Dhaka, burned for over 24 hours and ended with over 114 people dead and 200 more injured. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor of the building, with their only exit leading to the inferno below.
Claims have since emerged that businesses involved with the factory had blocked attempts to improve its safety conditions. Wal-Mart, another company who had clothes made within the factory, explained only a year earlier that improvements in electrical and fire safety would be a "very extensive and costly modification" and "it is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments”. These companies operate in one of the most profitable industries in the world and still are not making efforts to acknowledge basic human rights along their supply chain.
This has been the gritty aftermath of Rana Plaza. It has produced little action from the companies involved and most would rather squabble over the extent of their impact in these events than contribute any compensation. Benetton Group, a global fashion brand based in Italy, stated in September last year they were committed to “playing a role in finding an industry-wide, multi- stakeholder approach to compensation - much like the Accord did for fire and safety”. Two months later the Bangladesh Safety Accord received full participation of the Government of Bangladesh, international trade unions, numerous organisations and NGOs, major clothing brands and has the UN’s International Labour Organization as a neutral chair. Benetton’s response was to absolve themselves of any participation in the tragedy, announcing the Accord was “a purely voluntary contribution system, one which was not at all proportionate to each company’s presence in Bangladesh”. Good one.
More and more attention has been paid to these horrible tragedies and maybe we can consider this a bloodied silver lining. We’re starting to wake up and realise our clothes have important stories and too often the stories in our wardrobes are not happy ones. Naked encourages you to look for clothes with good stories. Part of dressing responsibly is an awareness of the perils of fast-fashion. Our clothes live all too briefly and if you don’t know where and how it is made you should really pause to consider the darker possibilities: exploitation is cheap, and the business of exploitation is booming.