Representatives from 40 clothing retailers, including H&M, Nike and Gap, met with the Bangladesh garment association last week to address the labor issues highlighted by the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza, a large multi-story complex that housed shops and garment factories. More than 650 people died in the April 24 disaster, and the number is still rising.
In Bangladesh, the families of the victims are demanding answers from garment industry executives, who were apparently aware of the plaza’s structural problems beforehand, but did nothing to rectify them.
Bangladesh is a center for the worldwide garment industry. Many American clothing companies have transferred their manufacturing operations from the U.S. to Bangladesh because of its low labor and material costs.
However, with these low costs come major problems, including worker exploitation and unsafe working conditions.
In an op-ed for CNN, Kalpona Akter, a former child laborer in Bangladesh’s garment industry, recalled, “I began working in Bangladesh’s garment industry at the age of 12, making just $3 a month. I went to work because my father had a stroke and the family needed money to cover basic living expenses. I worked 23 days in a row, sleeping on the shop floor, taking showers in the factory restroom, drinking unsafe water and being slapped by the supervisor.”
The latest tragedy is only the latest in a long series of garment factory disasters. Just last November, a fire at a factory that made clothing for several U.S. retailers killed 112 Bangladeshi workers.
Now, U.S. and European brands who rely on Bangladeshi manufacturing are weighing options for the future. Some have promised compensation to workers’ families, and say they are looking into ways to make the industry safer.
This week, PBS affiliate KQED is hosting an interactive chat about fast fashion and the garment industry. Should fashion companies like H&M and Zara be responsible for the manufacturing of their clothing even though they don’t own the factories? What should be their role? What is the role of the consumer? What is the role of government?
Here are a few responses to the discussion so far:
— Luis Cubas(@Ice_CubeBag) May 5, 2013
— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra