I’ve been looking in the sewing and fashion media all week, and seen nothing – NOTHING! – about any memorial, reminder or update to the Rana Plaza disaster on Wednesday, 24 April 2013.
The Guardian has come up, as usual, with some interesting stuff – the April 2017 headline is heartwarming and hopeful – but below it is more dreadful, dreadful news about the garment industry. Here’s a current link (April 2017).
And lest we think that all is well because we ‘only buy UK made clothing’ or – in the case of my American readers, ‘only US made clothing’, this is no guarantee whatsoever that workers will be treated in accordance with the law or even permitted normal everyday human rights such as freedom of facial expression. Yes, you read that right. A worker was allegedly disciplined for smiling, at a garment factory in the UK.
Of course there are garment factories where workers are treated with dignity and respect, and paid fairly, too. I know someone personally who would go back to a job as a machinist at David Nieper’s factory in Derbyshire like a shot, if she had not moved too far away for her husband’s career, and I am certain there are others.
However, the problems in the garment industry with pay, safety and workers rights are endemic and universal. Sadly, little has changed fundamentally since the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911 in New York City in 1911.
Here in the UK, wages in the textile industry are, overall, the lowest of all UK manufacturing industries. River Island, New Look, Boohoo and Missguided have recently been accused, in Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’, of using – allegedly indirectly – UK factories which pay their workers less than half the statutory minimum wage. Again, a Guardian link.
Such factories should not even exist in this country, the fifth or sixth richest in the world, in the 21st century. Well, they shouldn’t exist anywhere, but …
Sew your own, and take pleasure in so doing. Then wear it with joy. Try to use fabric that would otherwise be discarded – charity/op/thrift shop finds, seconds, ‘mill-ends’ – but don’t agonise over it, as most fabrics (certainly not all, and those marketed as ethical, eco-friendly and/or organic are not always quite what they seem, sadly … ) are produced in decent-enough conditions, by hard-hatted and white-overalled technicians operating sophisticated, expensive machinery, rather than semi-skilled labour.
When you buy clothes, whether from a big name, a supermarket or a small boutique, be aware that gross violations of workers’ rights can be – and are – found in almost every country, factory, workshop or living room in which garments are made. The differences between what might be termed high street or mainstream brands and retailers are not so marked as to in any way justify buying from one instead of another. Look for brands which are open and transparent about their manufacturing locations, auditing processes and attitudes towards trades unions. A brand wishing to appeal to the more responsible consumer will provide such information on its website – but of course you have no idea how much of it is true.