Recently in Europe, there has been a commotion within the big clothing traders there about how and where they source their stock from.
It’s been brought to the fore by a massive fire in a factory in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh that produced clothing for firms in the West.
The fire destroyed the factory and killed at least 900 people who were working there. Nine hundred people.
Reports cited that the place was so ill-equipped, not a single fire extinguisher was on site, exits not clearly marked, power cables, some of which showed the copper underneath the pvc covering hanging haphazardly everywhere.
And the situation became so desperate that rescuers began hacking the limbs of some badly burnt but surviving victims in a bid to pull them from the carnage.
In a way, this news is not really news. Time after time, we hear of similar things happening in the developing world, where the goods produced is shipped overseas for sale in Western retail outlets. And as always, those goods are produced by men and women, sometimes even children, who are paid a pittance of a wage and who work in totally unsuitable and dangerous conditions.
One of the names that came up in the aftermath of that fire in Bangladesh was Primark, a discount retailer in the UK who has been one of the leaders in retail clothing for many years now, with their ultra low prices under-cutting virtually all their competitors. Is this how these people make their money? By buying from suppliers who don’t value human life at all? I looked around the stores in Vancouver, and sure enough, most of the clothing on sale is from India, China, Bangladesh, Mexico…typical slave-labour economies, boosted because we eagerly buy up their wares. Yes, sure, we all like cheap goods, but at this price? I dunno about that one!
What retailers like Primark, and their customers, now need to think about is this:
Does buying goods at shops like Primark et all justify the deaths of 900 people who produced those goods? What do retailers need to do to make sure the suppliers they source their goods from are bona-fide traders, with equally stringent and safe working practices laid down for their employees?
There are other, too harrowing photos of some workers killed in this fire, but which I have chosen not to show here.
photos courtesy ecouterre.com