Bangladesh: Trade union is the solution, Debapriya says goo.gl/fb/OYiHS
— Netne News Online (@netnenews) November 27, 2012
Yesterday was declared a day of national mourning across Bangladesh following the tragic fire that snuffed the life out of over one hundred workers at a garment factory there. Writing that the hellish event was the country's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the Internet's Rude Pundit notes that "While the Bangladesh factories have attempted to eliminate child labor, young (mostly) women still end up toiling in the slave-like conditions. And those conditions can include locked doors, no fire exits or extinguishers or sprinklers, and strict rules on leaving one's station, all for 21 cents an hour..." - And all that just so some of the world's largest and most adored apparel makers can make a quick buck.
The Quartz website has photos provided by the International Labor Rights Forum showing some of the labels found among the ashes from that deadly blaze. They include those of internationally known American brands probably familiar to those of us who have shopped the stores surrounding Temple Valley.
In recent years many U.S. apparel giants have pledged to make their clothes "sweat-free," by only contracting with factories that distinguish themselves from sweatshops by adhering to some sort of fair labor standard. The problem is that the voluntary nature of those commitments essentially leave the fox in charge of the hen house. In countries where labor regulations are lax, enforcing those standards is left entirely in the hands of the individual businesses headquartered there and the international firms that hire them.
On top of that, a ceaseless maze of subcontracting makes tracing an item of clothing from factory to retail shop floor an arduous task at best for the average consumer. Your favorite dungaree seller may say that they will only work with factories that guarantee a safe and ethical work environment but without any real oversight there is no way to hold their feet to the fire, despite the recent tragedy. Over a century of needless deaths in factory fires since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire have taught us the painful lesson that in the corporate boardroom greed tends to trump the ethics card.
Consumers (a.k.a. everybody)are the last link holding together the chain that binds so many needle workers to a life of poverty in which they are forced to toil under some of the worst conditions imaginable. Opting out of the system isn't a realistic alternative for most consumers unless they can spin their own textiles or live in an area where nudity is a viable option.
Most of us have to procure some kind of clothing made by someone else. If you are at all concerned about the conditions under which that person labored to make the garment your wearing, make sure it bears a union label. Union garment worker shops may be a rare animal these days and hardly ever seen in today's emerging economies but they usually ensure a fair wage and working conditions wherever they exist.
You may not be familiar with union labels. You won't find them on a pair of Levis or a host of other well known garments. Still they're out there and, like the people that stand behind them, they have been standing for safe working conditions and more for as long as workers have been standing up for their rights.
Buy union-made and start wearing your clothes inside out to show the world the label and you just might start a fair trade trend that stretches from Karachi to Kalamazoo.
Remember to look for the union label and remember "an injury to one is an injury to all."