The Demise of Fashionable Ethics

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Clothing tag lies in the rubble of the garment factory that collapsed in Bangladesh. Photo by Ismail Ferdous

On April 24th, the devastating news of a factory building collapsing in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed over a thousand people and a couple of thousands more injured, left us speechless. This news raised once again the issue of decent working environment and fair pay in fashion production.

Among the wreck of what was once a production site, we also see the decay of basic human rights. Many factory owners feel threatened about losing their lifeline. “Look, we make a particular brand of polo shirt, which they pay us $15 to make and they sell for $150. We only make five percent on that by the time we pay the bank, the workers and compliance costs,” comments Adnan Bhuiyan who owns a large factory near the Bangladeshi capital.

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Couple embracing in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. Photo by Taslima Akhter

Everyone knows the harsh truth about the workers and the price some people had to pay just so you can buy that shirt of $5.99. However, we turn a blind eye and continue to pay the retail price of which less than 5% goes to the workers.

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Activists from the Spanish General Union of Workers joined protests across Europe to persuade major clothing labels to work to improve the conditions for Bangladeshi garment industry workers. Photo by Albert Gea

This is not the first time the working conditions of fashion manufacturers are questioned. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City recorded one of the most ruthless tragedies in the history of industrial disasters in the U.S. where 146 immigrant women died in the fire. After this tragedy the laws were changed requiring the safety standards in factories to be improved.

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911

It seems that history repeats itself over and over again, and we don’t know how many times the same mistakes can be made. Do we forget with time? Or is having the latest trends of garments in our closet more important than buying ethically? It is important to know in what conditions the products we buy are made. Look at the bigger picture. This involves everything and not just fashion. It is true that we need to eat, to dress, to move. Unless we want to be extremist hippies, there is a need for a basic consumerism. However, be a smart consumer. Be aware of the origin of what you buy and how it is produced.

Let’s care.

Written by Victoria and Irem