Last night’s ABC 4 Corners report ‘Fashion Victims’, by investigative journalist Sarah Ferguson, was a heart-wrenching look at garment factory workers in Bangladesh in the most appalling conditions.
After its screening, the terms boycotting, shunning and shaming were being hurled around on social media, with cries for ‘justice’ for oppressed workers.
Though the gruelling conditions these labourers were forced to toil in are shocking, and do demand action, I believe boycotting the affiliated brands is not the answer.
Yes, without a doubt their actions are shameful and showed a disturbing lack of human compassion – but by boycotting these brands, we are placing a halt on the income of 3.5 million garment workers in Bangladesh, most of whom are young females, providing for large families. The situation is a moral conundrum.
An Oxfam Australia survey released yesterday explains that almost 70 per cent of Australians would pay more for their clothes if they knew overseas workers were paid a decent wage and that garment factories had safe working conditions.
Bangladesh is the new mecca of cheap labour; they are in fact some of the lowest paid workers in the world. Exports are set to triple by 2020.
One European buyer summed up the situation very neatly:
“It’s price, price, price, price, price and profit”.
You can also read that as cheap cheap cheap and cheap.
Conditions are worsening in a bid to keep up with demand for cheap clothing production, which in Bangladesh has quadrupled in the last decade. Since 2008 there has been an extraordinary 1500% increase in Australian buying from Bangladesh.
We, as the consumers, are part of what’s driving the boom. In our disposable world, we continue to buy cheap clothes with a disregard for the product, because there’s no value attached to it.
Jo Kellock – CEO of the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries Australia said the following in an interview with Craft Australia, 2011 –
‘Last year Australia purchased one billion units of clothing and 90% of this was imported. This happens because it can be delivered faster and cheaper. However, this faster, cheaper, easier model is not sustainable..’
In Australia Women spend double the amount of money on clothing than men.
Fast Fashion is not sustainable for the environment, for positive action on dangerous climate change or for the millions of people caught in the network.
There is no quick fix. However, as individuals, we do have an incredible power to affect change. We affect change through the choices we make and through what we spend our money on. Every time we spend our money we are voting for the kind of world we want to live in.
Research from Oxfam highlights that 83 per cent of Australians surveyed want clothing retailers to stop being so secretive. Knowledge and research are great weapons of defence – but we also need to start valuing those things that we purchase and take action to move away from the throwaway mentality.