Fast fashion, at what price?
Last month marked one year since the collapse of the Rana plaza factory in Bangladesh, where over a thousand garments factory workers died and another two thousand were injured. Despite the severity of the Rana plaza disaster only around half of the 29 fashion brands who sourced clothes from the factories based there have deposited into the compensation fund. The treatment of factory workers is still poor, their wages remain substandard and their labour rights non-existent.
The 24th April is the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster and has been named fashion revolution day worldwide, to engage international consumer power to demand ethical fashion from the industry. I attended a meeting on Fashion Revolution day organised by 'People Tree'; a fair-trade fashion label and one of very few brands offering truly fair-trade fashion from sourcing more sustainable fabrics, as well as providing a fair living wage and ensuring a healthy working environment for their garment makers.
The panel included representatives from garment workers federations, international NGOs and fashion commentators. The focus of the meeting was firstly to raise awareness of the issues and complexities involved in achieving fair trade fashion. Many in the audience questioned the panel on where they could safely buy clothes on the high street but there were no clear cut answers. The truth of it was that none of the high street brands offer truly ethical options.
The question on all of our minds was "so what’s the solution?". The solution is not a simple or straightforward one. Where should the responsibility lie? Should it be the governments where the factories are based to enforce labour laws more strictly? Or should it be fashion brands to insist on higher labour standards from their suppliers. Or should it be the workers themselves to organise themselves in such a way to demand better rights for themselves?
The reality is, in today's world, consumers are key, where there is demand there will be a supply. The buck stops with us, the everyday consumer. While we continue to accept unethical products, they will continue to be supplied. Our shopping choices have ramifications for people around the world, and it is up to us to demand ethical options from the brands we shop with.