Here in the People Tree office, all the staff were very moved by this week’s BBC2 This World documentary, ‘Clothes to Die For’, available on BBC2 iPlayer for another two days but if you don’t have the time to watch it you can download a copy within the next two days and watch it later. It is beautifully shot and really worth a watch.
The documentary shows the beauty and chaos of Bangladesh, in particular Dhaka, as well as the beauty of the people. On my recent trip to Dhaka with People Tree to visit our Producer Groups in Bangladesh, I was struck by how inherently artistic the country is. Simple cars, bikes and rickshaws that we take for granted are covered in such beautiful art work and decoration, not to mention the women’s saris, with batik, hand embroidery, sequins and incredibly vibrant colours. The sense of community intermingled with an enormous chaos, insane traffic and to-ing and fro-ing is what makes Bangladesh such a wonderful country. Unfortunately amongst this beautiful chaos, is a darker side of life, that can be almost compared to a type of slavery, people trapped in a cycle of poverty by subsistence wages and lack of education.
My heart truly broke to hear the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse speak about their experience. It was a déjà vu back to Karachi, Pakistan where I was in January 2013 with the Clean Clothes Campaign interviewing families of victims of a garment factory fire echoing exactly the same tragic stories. The incalculable tragedy of multiple family members dying in such tragic and unnecessary circumstances. Families left without bread winners, without compensation and struggling to get by on a daily basis. Families left with a sense that for the price of a cheap pair of jeans, the world had forgotten them and didn’t care. It’s sometimes hard to identify with these tragedies until you meet victims face to face, it’s hard to convey the sense of injustice I felt as well as pain for these mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who spent days searching through burnt remains for their loved ones. I was really happy to see that ‘Clothes to Die For’ gave a real sense of the tragedy and loss, without being sensational, but by just focusing on the personal stories and experiences giving the workers a platform and a voice, and allowing them to tell their own story.
I firmly believe that we all have a part to play in changing the fashion industry for better. After the Rana Plaza building collapse everyone is looking to play the blame game. But the reality is we are all involved and we each need to take on the responsibility that lies with us. This responsibility is different for each party, the factory owners, the Bangladeshi government, the buyers, the retailers, the governments of the retailers and us, the consumers. We are part of a chain; the garment passes through the workers hands and ends up in ours. No one is fully to blame, but likewise no one devoid of responsibility. And as consumers we can do something, we can shop better, buy fair and demand fair. This will make a difference.
Working at People Tree means being part of something which gives consumers the option of buying fairly made clothes, where profit is also driven back into the community and where producers have the right to freedom of association, a living wage and a safe work place. People Tree develops long term relationships with Producer Groups not defined by cost and price, but defined by opportunity, development, capacity building and potential.
After seeing both sides of the industry, I just hope that conventional businesses will start to follow the same principles of Fair Trade and that consumers will also support fair fashion to help keep it viable for everyone in the supply chain.
Clare Nally is Peopletree’s Fair Trade & Sustainable supply chain coordinator & outreach
Clare has a Masters in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre of Human Rights, NUIG and has spent a year working with the Dublin branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international alliance of organisations set up to improve working conditions in the global garment manufacturing industry.