According to CTV news, as of this morning there are 430 confirmed dead and 149 reported people missing in what has become the worst disaster for Bangladesh’s $20 billion-a-year garment industry.
My Live Below the Line update will come later tonight as usual, but I wanted to think out loud about what’s been happening in Bangladesh because it’s on my mind right now. What’s more, the girls and I recently attended National We Day where we spent nearly 6 hours listening to how individual people can make big changes by taking action. So yes, my brain is very full of this stuff right now.
The other day I was contacted by a reporter and asked to comment about the fact that Joe Fresh was one of the brands that had clothing manufactured in the building that collapsed in Bangladesh recently. He knew I was at the opening of the new Ottawa store (ETA: here’s the article). He remarked about how few people were talking about it online. It’s been in the news – certainly – but overall, considering the scale of this tragedy, there hasn’t been much of an outrage expressed in tweets, petitions, or blog posts.
PhD in Parenting has written a very thoughtful and informed response and I urge you all to read it. Annie has been to Bangladesh and has seen how people live there.
Myself: I am shocked and dismayed that one of my favourite brands is involved. If this is the price of fast and cheap fashion I don’t want to pay it. Imagine the anguish all of those families are feeling right now, all those children without parents.
There are just so many questions swirling around my head today, and my brain just isn’t working like it should be (I blame my lack of coffee this week):
- Did Joe Fresh et al. know about the building in poor working conditions? If they did, they have blood on their hands. If they didn’t, well, why didn’t they have a better overview of their supply chain? Is there any excuse for not knowing?
- Are factory working conditions ultimately the responsibility of the city and country, or the brand who is having garments made there?
- Some people are wagging their fingers saying, well, what do you expect from an $8 t-shirt? But just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s been made in a sweat shop. There are many reasons why an article of clothing can be inexpensive. The fact that it has a “Made in Bangladesh” label doesn’t mean it was made in a factory like the ones in the news recently.
The girls and I have had a chat about it and have decided that for now, we can’t support a brand that allows people to work in these kind of appalling conditions. But it’s hard. We love Joe Fresh and want to shop there. And what about all those other places we shop? How do we know that people did not suffer in the production of the clothes we put on our backs?
My answer can only be this: to shop mindfully, and focus on stores that adhere to international labor and human rights standards. I will choose quality over quantity.
So is it possible to dress oneself in well-made, made-in-Canada clothing when almost everything in the stores is an import? What are the options for those of us who are taking our blinders off, and who want to shop a little bit better? And how do we know if a garment has been made in the same kind of place we read about in Bangladesh?
Yesterday I went went shopping in a fit of anger for my summer wardrobe. My first destination: Chlorophylle in Westboro. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be much on their website about their commitment to Canadian products. I noticed yesterday that many of their tags promised Canadian design, but many items were still made overseas. After a bit of looking I did find this casual dress for everyday wear. It’s made in Canada, and it cost $80. I love it, and it will last me a long time, I just know it.
From there I moved on to Mountain Equipment Co-op. I figured I probably wouldn’t find very much that was Canadian made (that number is getting smaller every year as manufacturing moves off-shore), but they’re a company that has taken a stand on fair labour practices. You can read about it right here. I thought I could find a good option at MEC even though it wasn’t going to be made in Canada.
I spotted this dress by Patagonia while I was there. It was $69.
That’s my daughter’s bedroom by the way. Window markers for the win! :)
I was shopping for Canadian made only, and this dress was made in Sri Lanka. I was going to put it back on the shelf (I’m a woman on a mission!) but then I noticed the tag. Patagonia is a company with a good reputation. You can read more about their commitment to fair labour practices and safe working conditions right here. Patagonia works with an outside auditor and an in-house corporate responsibility specialist to establish working conditions and pay for every person who sews their garments. A win! So I bought it, even though it was made off-shore.
From there I moved on to Green Tree Eco Fashion where I saw this dress by Indigenous. It’s gorgeous, super soft and perfect for summer. I didn’t buy it because I am not QUITE the right body shape for this lovely vision.
I didn’t catch the price, but the company has a pretty cool story which you can read about here. The clothes are designed in the U.S and the clothing is made by women in South America who are in need of work. It’s a fair trade dress! (Goes with my fair trade coffee!)
So I have bought two new dresses for summer so far and I will buy a third within the next couple of weeks. I’m going to check out Le Chateau (I’ve bought Canadian made garments there before), Workshop Boutique (where I will likely find something that is Canadian made), and Fishbowl patron terra20. My goal is to buy three or four new dresses and have them in rotation, seven days a week, along with last year’s stuff which I’ll wear until I can wear them no more.
Sidebar: who decided that it’s considered “wrong” to wear the same thing two days in a row? As long as everything is clean it shouldn’t be an issue, right? Let’s talk about this!
So this is my new shopping strategy, and it’s one I can feel good about. I am spending a tiny bit more, on fewer things, that I can wear for a longer period of time. I won’t be shopping at Joe Fresh until they can prove (and this proof is backed up by third parties) that they’ve made real changes. I want them to make sure that working conditions for Bangladeshi’s are safe. And labelling would go a long way to restoring my confidence too.
In her blog post, Annie pointed out that boycotting these stores is only hurting the poorest of the poor.
“If you boycott companies that produce goods in Bangladesh, you don’t create better working conditions in Bangladesh, you put people out of a job. Instead of a dangerous job and uncertain future they have no job and no future.”
And that is certainly one way of looking at it, but there are companies that ARE doing it right in Bangladesh and in other developing countries. We need to seek those out, and vote with our dollars.
The people in Bangladesh – and many other developing countries – desperately need jobs. Garment factory jobs – as awful as they are – have actually made some positive changes. BUT we still need to pressure garment manufacturers to ensure the jobs there are decent jobs.
Annie linked to an article by Stephanie Nolan that is worth reading. She writes:
“Bangladesh’s garment zone can seem like a hellhole, and no one who shops at Joe Fresh would want Mini Akhtan’s job for five minutes. But you can call Joe Fresh today and demand that they audit their producers for safety and for working conditions. You can demand to know what their producers’ relations are with Bangladesh’s struggling labour unions. You can tell Joe Fresh that if they are going after your business, they need to have a direct relationship with a supplier – not outsource to a third party so they get plausible deniability. Demand to see those safety audits, every quarter, posted on their website, right beside the sale on $6 shorts”
Sounds like a plan to me. The health and welfare of people MUST be more important than my having a pretty summer dress. End of story.
Want some additional reading?
- ‘Extreme Pricing’ At What Cost? Retailer Joe Fresh Sends Reps To Bangladesh As Death Toll Rises
- Mass funeral held as Bangladesh collapse death toll hits 410
- 5 ways consumers can be more socially conscious when they shop
Edited to add: Buying four dresses is one thing, but where does shopping for kids fall into this? When they grow out of their clothing at breakneck speeds and $8 T-shirts is all you can afford? Gah. It’s such a tough issue. Here’s what I’m thinking: If you CAN, vote with your dollar by shopping elsewhere, and demand better of stores like Joe Fresh and the like and promise to return there once they change their stripes. If you can’t vote with your dollar, demand better anyway.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.