With the news that almost 300 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in a building collapse in Bangladesh, it has now emerged some of factories housed there were used by a number of Western brands. The usual culprits have popped up, namely Primark and Walmart, the same week Primark have announced they are expanding to France.
Only last November, a garment factory fire in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, killed more than 100 people. In 2005, 79 died in another collapse of a factory that supplied goods for Zara. You may see a pattern starting to emerge.
On Wednesday, survivors were seen using lengths of fabric to abseil out of the wreckage. The images being relayed here are horrific; it looks like a war zone. So how long before we make the connection between those pictures and our high streets?
We are no strangers to sweatshops; they seem to drift in and out of media attention without a whole lot changing. No one likes to feel responsible and when disaster occurs we can be quick to look elsewhere for blame.
Surely, this is the fault of the Bangladeshi authorities and the factory owners who reportedly ignored the large cracks in the building on Tuesday – not the western companies who were probably not as thorough in their factory checking as they would have been on home soil. It couldn’t possibly be our fault, the consumers who happily buy products without a second thought to their production.
High-street giant Primark, have announced they are to expand after significant growth under austerity Britain. But at what cost? Corners are clearly being cut to ensure that every British teenager can get a £3 bikini by summer.
Meanwhile, other shamed companies like Amazon carry on with no more than bumps and bruises, despite not paying their taxes. We may be skint, but we still want to shop and if it means shelving some ethics for the time being, so be it.
But the recession can’t always be a justification: not all brands associated with this kind of labor are necessarily cheap. Often, it’s just the companies who are getting a bargain.
With such a huge disconnect between the product on the hanger and where it came from, it’s hard to imagine shopping differently. The same can’t be said for food, with UK supermarkets stacked with fair-trade and free range produce. You’d think we’d be as demanding about the rights of our fellow race, before those of chickens.
But we are fooled by the glossy displays and sharp logos that tell us exactly what they want us to know about their brand, without a faraway, overpopulated factory getting a look in.
This isn’t just about construction regulations, but also exposure to dangerous chemicals, under paying, over working and gross breaches of human rights. There have been advances, but so many of our household fashion names are still misbehaving and I fear they may only stop if we start telling them off.
But will we? The main issue here is options, we want cheap fashion and if there’s no ethical choice on offer, we’re not willing to go without. The difference now is only that I am not in denial – I have on some level accepted the moral implications of my continued shopping habits. Next time I’m in the queue with my £4 scarf, I may just see those women clutching to its lengths to escape their ruined factory.
We must hope the voices of the thousands of angry Bangladeshi workers protesting are loud enough, as it seems many of their western counterparts will be raising no more than a gasp as they leaf through their papers.