Fashion's Moral Crisis in the Bangladesh Garment Factory Disaster

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People rescue garment workers trapped under rubble at the Rana Plaza building after it collapsed (Reuters)
Last week saw yet another tragedy strike those at the bottom of the fashion food chain, as more than 400 factory workers in Bangladesh were killed and another 2500 injured after the Rana Plaza factory they were working in collapsed. 

Among the rubble were labels from high street staples Primark and Mango

Bright M2
Products from Primark
Brights W2
Brights M1

Campaign groups claim the disaster - which came just five months after a fire in another Bangladesh factory killed 112 workers - shows just how much more must be done to ensure the fashion industry meets its ethical responsibilities. 

John Hilary of campaign group War on Want says audits - routinely deployed throughout the sector - "have shown to be a complete failure". Workers are coached on what to say, he claims, while inspections don't go deep enough into the business to gauge conditions. 

And there is the suggestion retailers are complicit in going along with flawed checks. One textiles supplier, whose Italian and Chinese-made fabrics are shipped to places such as Bangladesh for high street retailers, claims big businesses "turn a blind eye" to conditions there.

"It's hard to prove whether the retailer knows what's going on, but the reality is the buyers do know - everyone knows. How else could they retail clothes at that price?" 

Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry supplies retailers around the world and accounts for about 80 percent of the impoverished country's exports. 

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The collapse has raised strong doubts about retailers' claims that they could ensure worker safety through self-regulation.

Bangladesh is popular as a source of clothing largely because of its cheap labour. The minimum wage for a garment worker is $38 a month, after being nearly doubled this year following protests by workers.

This is not the first time such incidents have happened in Bangladesh, and won't be the last unless working conditions and safety standards improve. 


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