What Not to Wear: Unethical Fashion
On the day of the Rana Plaza tragedy, some of us were wearing clothes made by the workers dead and dying. The responsibility of our collective failure to ensure their safety lies greatly on the fashion corporations, but it also lies on the individual. Sitting in Bangladesh, it might be easy to shrug off that responsibility by thinking in terms of 'what can I do, I buy clothes from Bongo' or 'we don't have much choice here, it's up to the westerners to buy ethically'. But wherever we are, it's not hard to think of ourselves as responsible humans before consumers. Here's a look at how to do that, whatever the budget, from right here in Bangladesh.
The most obvious option of buying local does not mean foregoing western wear completely and sticking to kamizes and panjabis. There are locally produced, fair-trade outlets making t-shirts, trousers and shirts as well. Stores like Aranya and Jaatra keep organic clothing, while Aarong has a section for jeans, shirts, t-shirts and skirts.
Then there's the affordably priced Grameen Uniqlo, which is a partnership between Grameen and the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo to produce international standard clothes in Bangladesh, while ensuring proper working standards for the local workers. Grameen Uniqlo stocks jeans, shirts, t-shirts for men and t-shirts and leggings for women.
But instead of boycotting all international clothing brands, it is better to research on the labour practices of the brands and decide which ones should be encouraged. Refusing to supply to all brands is not a solution, since the economy of Bangladesh relies heavily on the garments sector. As the labour leaders in the garments industry themselves say, when responsible brands leave the market they are only replaced by unknown, cheap companies with no transparency.
So how to decide which brands are responsible and which are reprehensible? According to Labour Behind the Label, an organisation supporting labour rights worldwide, some brands have already paid up the first instalment of compensation for the Rana Plaza victims, while others have been avoiding it. Among well known brands, Inditex (which produces Zara clothing), Walmart and Mango have already paid up. Matalan, the main buyer from Rana Plaza hasn't, among J. C. Penney, Carrefour and others.
And overall, some brands are working more to ensure fair labour practices than others. Some of the better ones are H&M and Marks and Spencers, while the worst appear to be Esprit, G-Star, and Versace. The full report can be found at the Labour behind the Labour website.
Armed with this information, what can Bangladeshi consumers do? Realistically, a tiny fraction of consumers here purchase clothes directly from the brand. Instead, we go to Doza or Bongo, where there is no discretion and brands are mixed. Is it okay then to purchase anything thoughtlessly? The garments manufacturers resell the products to these markets, and they are still the byproducts of an exploitative industry. Inside Bongo or Doza, the responsibility of buying ethically, of going through the brand tags and discarding the irresponsible ones, lies solely on the individual. Spending so much effort on finding clothes may be hard, but not harder than the guilt of wearing the fruits of exploitation.