Every time ethical clothing and social transparency are discussed, Rana Plaza is mentioned.
The cost of fast fashion came spilling out five years ago in Bangladesh, when over 1,100 people were killed in the garment factory.
Its important we dont forget.
The eight-storey factory complex on the outskirts of Dhaka collapsed that day, crushing more than 1,100 people to death and injuring about 2,500.
The workers, paid a pittance to produce dirt-cheap clothing for the West, had been ordered into the building that morning despite cracks in the concrete having been reported just the previous day.
As a Bangladeshi woman Ive had to hold back tears when reporting on the issue. Considering the little attention my country gets, its heartbreaking to see it in the limelight for one of the biggest man-made disasters.
Thankfully, in its wake, provisions have been taken; the Bangladesh Accord was set up to regulate fire and building safety between brands, retailers, unions. The five-year contract which ends this year has been renewed till 2021 after being signed by major organisations such as H&M, Primark, Arcadia Group (Topshop, Dorothy Perkins), Debenhams and more.
These deals need to be implemented long term, to make sure workers are given their rights to safe, clean, healthy working environments, with adequate pay and complaining measures.
Brands have commented on their support since the disaster, vowing to be more ethical.
Paul Lister, responsible for Primarks Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Team, said: Five years on from the Rana Plaza building collapse, Primark continues to support those who were affected and over the period has contributed a total of over $14 million in aid and compensation.
In June 2017 Primark signed the 2018 Transition Accord, reaffirming Primarks commitment to collaborate with other brands, factory owners, NGOs, trade unions and the Government of Bangladesh to bring about sustainable positive change in the Bangladeshi garment industry.
But companies are still selling cheap clothes, sourcing them at cheap prices. We as shoppers cant be oblivious to disposable fashion and disposable workers anymore.
Signing up for the Accord isnt enough. More transparency is needed.
Fashion Revolution has come up with a Transparency Index to track 100 global apparels and rank them in order of how much they disclose about their suppliers.
Although it found improvements across the industry (of 5%), it said that most companies still operate in broadly the same way that enabled the Rana Plaza factory collapse.
That means there could be another major incident like the Rana Plaza collapse. We need to prevent that.
Less than 40% of retailers published goals for improving human rights. Thats not good enough; we need to call them out and ensure theyre committing to sustainable, long term targets and meeting them.
We need to break our addiction to the need for speed and volume says Fashion Revolution.
We need to realise the true cost of our cheap bargains. Ultimately, we need to buy less, buy better and keep asking questions about the realities behind what were purchasing. We need to love the clothes we already own more and work harder to make them last.
Rana Plaza was clearly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, materialisation of fast fashion toxicity, not least because at the time it happened, so many were involved, it wasnt even discernible whose clothes were being made.
Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel in the Womens Rights Division of Human Rights Watchsaysthe Rana Plaza tragedy was a wake-up call because no one knew immediately which companies were sourcing clothing from the building at the time of its collapse.
And so investigators had to actually go through the ruins to collect labels or interview surviving workers … to hold these brands accountable, she says.
So many organisations had such a major hand to play in the disaster and yet still remain popular choices with thriving incomes.
I understand that not everyone can afford high quality expensive clothes, but fortuanately for most Westerners, there are many options; charity shops, donations, independent retailers, making clothes yourself.
Buy less and re-use more, re-purpose things. Take care of them – we cant keep churning out clothes and giving businesses to problematic stores.