Keeping the Clothes Business Clean
NEW YORK (MainStreet) —The recent collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh has sparked outrage among consumers who are increasingly concerned about the conditions in which their clothing is manufactured. The tragedy, which occurred in a crowded suburb of the Bangladeshi capitol of Dhaka, has so far claimed more than 400 lives and is considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. Perhaps the most saddening part of the incident is that it was preventable. Earlier in the week, building owner Sohel Rana was informed of suspicious cracks and ordered to close the eight-story building for business. He ignored the orders, and the following day, the building was in shambles. But there is plenty of blame to go around. Rana, in an interview with Bangladeshi news source bdnews24.com, points his finger at the building’s factory owners, who faced tight deadlines from their western clients. “I did not force the owners,” he said. “It was them who forced me, saying they would face huge losses and shipments would be canceled if the factories were closed for even one day.” Rana Plaza contained five garment factories, reported to manufacture clothing for western brands like JC Penney, Joe Fresh, Mango, Benetton and Primark. The incident has sparked anger, but it has also inspired action. Under consumer pressure, governments and corporations are now engaging in long-overdue conversations to reform what is obviously a broken industry. A number of petitions are circulating the Internet, notably ones from the Clean Clothes Campaign and Bangladesh’s National Garment Workers Federation, allowing consumers to express their support for change. There is hope that this tragedy will force fashion brands to insist on better conditions and stricter regulations in the factories where they do business. And there is reason to believe that these campaigns will be successful. As the following five examples show, consumer activism campaigns have a long history of effecting positive, lasting change in the garment industry.