Blog: Leonie BarrieHow to build on the Bangladesh outrage?

Leonie Barrie | 22 July 2013

Are the recent garment factory tragedies in Bangladesh pushing the industry towards a tipping point? That's the verdict of speakers at a Source Sustainability Summit in London, who believe the apparel sector needs to "build on the outrage" to create positive steps for change.

But while the Rana Plaza building collapse in April put the spotlight on sustainability, the latest labour law amendments drawn up by the Bangladeshi government have met with a mixed response from industry and worker rights groups, who say that despite some improvements they "still fall far short."

And it would seem Bangladesh's ready-made garment exporters have shrugged off political turmoil and a series of deadly industrial accidents to grow shipments by nearly 13% in the outgoing fiscal year.

As consumers increasingly call for more information about where their clothes are made, some industry watchers have also floated the idea of putting a label on garments to inform consumers they have been produced in an ethical way. But is this feasible - and would it really make a difference?

Lawmakers in the US are taking a slightly different stance, with new legislation being proposed to help consumers identify the extent to which products are American-made.

The debate on sub-contracting also continues. Time and time again, Western apparel brands and retailers whose products are found in fire-damaged or collapsed factories say garments were being manufactured there without their knowledge. Perhaps they should look more closely at their buying practices - often the root cause of sub-contracting. 

And, faced with an opportunity to change the course of events by getting Gap to sign up to the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh, an online petition and social media campaign made little difference to the company's stance - or its sales.

Not surprisingly, trends in garment worker wages also seem to mirror shifts in the popularity of supplier countries. Over the last decade, wages have fallen in real terms - especially in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia - according to new research. But the exception is China, where wages more than doubled. 


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