In April 2005, a sweater factory in Bangladesh that was making clothing for a variety of European-based brands collapsed, killing 64 apparel workers and injuring another 80. The Spectrum/Shahriyar disaster reminded North American’s of the New York City Triangle Waist Factory fire of 1911, and in many ways, the conditions in the two factories were very similar.
The Spectrum fire drew world-wide attention to the often horrific working conditions under which our clothing is made. Unfortunately, not much has changed, as workers continue to be injured and killed throughout the developing world. The infuriating thing is that all of this is preventable, but companies don’t take sensible precautions because they are trying to squeeze out every last drop of profit.
The major brands must assume a large dose of the responsibility for these problems, since they are the ones that set the prices so low that the contractors down the supply chain need to find cost-savings just to turn a profit. Toronto’s Maquila Solidarity Network, along with the Clean Clothes Campaign (Amsterdam) and the International Labor Rights Forum (Washington) have teamed up to mark the grim anniversary of the Spectrum fire to call on the major brands and the Bangladeshi government and business community to take key steps to improve working conditions in that country’s apparel industry. Please read the MSN website report, which suggests some actions you could take.
Here is the letter the NGOs sent to brands that source from Bangladesh. It includes a demand for buyers of apparel from Bangladesh to ensure they monitor all of their supplier factories for health and safety issues, that they ensure workers have a means of complaining about problems, and that they ensure workers have a real right to associate into unions for their protection.
Do you think it should be the responsibility of Canadian apparel companies, like The Bay, Roots, and Harry Rosen, for example, to ensure that their foreign suppliers are regularly monitored and that the workers’ there have a real right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining?
If so, should Canadian governments pass laws that create obligations on companies that operate here to better control the conditions under which their products are made in foreign locations?
Or are the conditions of work in Bangladesh a problem for the government there and the local businesses who operate there?