Dhaka Disaster Brings Home True Cost of Cheap Fashion

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Last week’s factory building collapse in Dhaka has lead to a rise in questions surrounding overseas working conditions for those employed in the garment industry. Bangladeshi producted goods fuel rising consumption and continuous demand for cheaper products in the West, but at what cost?

While it is common for  Western clothing brands outsource their production to Bangladesh, many Western consumers do not consider the terrible and dehumanising conditions under which their cut price clothes are produced. Not only are there questions of fair wages for workers in Bangladesh, but working conditions and safety are also a major concern.

The safety issue has long been discussed, but was brought horribly to the fore recently when Rana Plaza in Dhaka, containing over 3,000 workers for many Western clothes producers, collapsed. The incident allegedly left hundreds of workers dead, and hundreds are still missing. Rescue efforts have been underway since the initial collapse of the building, but have been severely hampered by a subsequent fire.

supervisors threatened to deduct pay from those who did not return to work inside the building, pressurizing workers who are generally living under the poverty line to make an unsafe decision

Some workers had reported that there were cracks in the buildings’ walls the day before, but they were told to continue to production following an inspection of the building. On top of this, supervisors threatened to deduct pay from those who did not return to work inside the building, pressurizing workers who are generally living under the poverty line to make an unsafe decision.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza is not an isolated incident. Bangladesh, as a core producer supplying products to satisfy Western customers’ lust for cheap trend items, has seen many workers fall victim to incidents ranging from fires, building collapses and other lethal accidents at the workplace.

Sources reveal that many buildings in Dhaka, including those used by international employers like New Wave Bottoms who produce for Primark, are built without permission

Although international movements (for example, the War on Want organization) have been calling for better working conditions for those working in the garment industry, safety conditions have not improved. These groups are calling for Western consumers to consider who produces their garments before they purchase, as lower prices for consumers in the West generally go hand in hand with lower wages for workers, and, in this case, life-threatening working conditions. Sources reveal that many buildings in Dhaka, including those used by international employers like New Wave Bottoms who produce for Primark, are built without permission, and often do not comply with construction regulations.

Following last week’s incident, several people have been arrested in relation to the disaster. Amongst these are three factory bosses as well as two engineers. The owner of the Rana Plaza, Muhammed Sohel Rana, was reportedly on the run, but has been caught by Bangladeshi authorities by the Indian border while he was attempting to cross into India.

By Margaux Schreuers

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