The Current

6 years after Rana Plaza collapse, many fashion giants still unwilling to make changes, says industry expert

It's been six years since the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. What's changed for workplace safety since then? One expert tells us that, if anything, labour conditions have gotten worse.

'Not only are [brands] not paying more, they're actually paying less,' says Carry Somers

Bangladesh's garment industry is responsible for about 80 per cent of the country's exports. Women make up roughly 80 per cent of textile factory workers there. (Reuters)

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Ensuring the safety and proper compensation of garment makers only requires a small price tag adjustment, but many brands won't let that happen, says Carry Somers.

"It's been estimated that about an extra 25 cents on an item of clothing made in Bangladesh would pay a living wage to garment workers and ensure that all buildings meet building safety standards," the advocate explained to The Current guest host David Common.

Paying those extra cents isn't an option for shoppers though, she said.

"It's not happening mostly because of the will of the brands to make a difference. When I was in Bangladesh I heard from numerous factory owners that they're receiving between three and five per cent less from the brands every year," she recalled.

"So not only are they not paying more, they're actually paying less."

Somers is the founder and global operations director of Fashion Revolution, an advocate group that demands transparency and improved business practices in the fashion industry.

She formed the campaign in response to the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a commercial building in Bangladesh that housed a garment factory.

More than 1,100 people died in the collapse. The incident spurred a global outcry for an improvement in garment factory conditions.

Bangladeshi people gather in April 2013, as rescuers look for survivors and victims at the site of a building that collapsed a day earlier at Rana Plaza, in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. (A.M. Ahad/Associated Press)

In January, Bangladeshi garment factory workers took to the streets to protest insufficient wages, which they say have yet to notably improve since the Rana Plaza collapse.

Loblaw, the parent company of clothing chain Joe Fresh, uses Bangladeshi labour to manufacture their products. In a statement, a Loblaw spokesperson told The Current said the company is "committed to ongoing progress to provide better protection for workers and to increase workplace safety in Bangladesh factories."

Last week, Fashion Revolution released their Fashion Transparency Index to provide consumers with more information about big brands and where their products come from.

The report reviews and ranks 200 of the biggest global clothing retailers based on their level of public transparency around suppliers, factory practices, and social and environmental impact.

Most shoppers would be willing to pay a little extra per item if it meant the garment makers were safe and adequately paid, says one industry expert. (Sergey Zaykov/Shutterstock)

Somers says she hopes this insider knowledge will help inform shoppers' decisions.

"Asking the question 'who made my clothes?' is so important," she said.

"We know that that question is pushing brands to change it is pushing them to be more transparent. So wherever people shop, they need to be asking that question … We need to push the mainstream to change."

To discuss the ethics of the fashion industry and what's changed since the Rana Plaza collapse, Common spoke to:

  • Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution.
  • Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Julie Crysler and Jessica Linzey. 


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