BOF Voices – The True Cost
Imran Amed, the founder and Editor-in-Chief coordinated two-hours of lively discussion and provided thought provoking comments on the current situation of the True Cost of Clothes from off-shore production areas such as Bangladesh.
The horrendous situation of the collapsing of the Rana Plaza building that housed a number of clothing factories that were subcontracting for big brands such as Benetton, Le Bon Marché, Mango, Matalan, Primark, Joe Fresh and Walmart on April 24th 2013 is well documented but has the state of workers conditions in these off-shore environments really improved?
An excellent 20-minute clip of film entitled The True Cost by Andrew Morgan was well researched, excellently filmed and balanced between emotional heart wrenching scenes of the Rana Plaza disaster but also a balanced view of what is occurring in the industry today. One clip was of a multi-acre farm in Texas producing vast bales of cotton balls. There were more than 10.8 million acres of planted cotton fibre in 2014 and half of those acres are in Texas creating per year a staggering 5,215,000. Much of this cotton is then exported back to countries such as Bangladesh that is now a major producer of soft separates for the global economy.
I asked the panel if the film The True Cost went on to discuss the advantages of on-shore production? Look at the green footprint alone in transporting first cotton to Bangladesh and then garments back to USA. The panel agreed that there were increasing economies to home grown production and there is an emerging trend back to the on-shoring of the garment industry in the UK. In the 1970s 94% of production for the USA was made in the USA and now it’s as low as just 4% but this is changing. Those green shoots of recovery for on-shoring are becoming the way forward.
I attended the event with the lovely Sue Waters the Marketing Executive for Alvanon and afterwards we reflected on the seminar. (Image right: Jenny Holloway with Sue Waters)
Our discussion centred on how important it is to stimulate such debates, to raise the profile of miscarriages of justice and the human suffering of people making clothes for the large multinational chains but its also about the doing. How does anyone tackle such large-scale injustices – where does it begin, with Government? With the retailers for booking the garments in the first place? With the consumer who after all want these fast fashion items at “cheap” prices?
The truth is we are all to take responsibility for our actions. When we look at a garment that sells for £5 and we know that our own minimum wage is £6.50 per hour what must have been paid for that garment to retail at just £5? Taking into account the fabric involved, the physical labour to make the garment, the components such as labels, the transportation costs et al.
Two-years ago the workers of Rana Plaza reported the cracks in the walls of the building before they started their days work. The workers were told that they had to go back to work to get the order outs that day otherwise their wages would be stopped for an entire month. They continued their journey up the eight-storey building and started to work. One hour later the building collapsed. (Rana Plaza collapsed building pictured left) Were these voices of the machinists heard? Clearly not. Will the voices now be heard of the campaigners that were in the seminar today? It’s not going to be easy is it? The drive for fast fashion does not mean unethical fashion – that’s why we have a factory that’s a social enterprise and we can manufacture up to 7,000 garments a week. However, our voice has to be heard to the retailers of today too. On shoring of production is here and its here to stay.
Yes Imran, Andrew and the team from Fashion Revolution you are so right – we have to start critically analysing the True Cost of Garments today – we all have a social conscience and we can all “do our bit” to make ethical decisions. The road is long but its a start and congratulations to Fashion Revolution and the BOF for keeping the momentum going for ethical fashion. Two-years on from the worst garment factory disaster in the world and yet two years late nobody has really been held accountable. Let’s make sure by next year “someone” is.
By Jenny Holloway CEO of Fashion Enter and www.fashioncapital.co.uk