As the days lengthen and the warmer weather approaches shops fill with summer fashion. Tempting styles, colours and prices lure us to purchase a new dress, top, trousers, whether or not we need them. Crucially today it is often the price that determines the purchase and some of them are so cheap how can we resist? And a glance at the label will tell you that it has travelled many 1000s of miles to hang on the shop rail. The question to ask is not “Can I afford this? ” but “Why is it so cheap? “
How can clothing be made so cheaply?
Britain led the way in the Industrial Revolution with the huge textile mills of the 18thC onwards and produced cheap clothing for home and for export. They were able to do this not just with the mechanisation of the mills but by employing many thousands of workers men, women and children at extremely low rates of pay. Conditions were so bad and horrific accidents so frequent that soon even Parliament had to act and a series of laws prevented children from being employed and set at least basic levels of safety.
Britain exported not only goods to the world but the factory system itself including the poor working conditions. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, New York, in 1911 caused the death of 123 women and 23 men with the youngest thought to be a girl of 14. The owners had locked all the doors to prevent workers taking an unauthorised break. Men and women perished in the fire or leaped to their deaths from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors where the factory was located.
In 2012 the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, resulted in 117 dead and 200 injured. Workers were trapped on the upper floors and either died in the fire or leapt from the building often with fatal consequences.
In 2016 a fire in an alleged ‘illegal’ factory in Delhi, India killed 13 people who were unable to escape. Piles of leather stacked on the narrow staircase and the cramped workshop made escape extremely difficult and most succumbed to smoke inhalation.
The list is endless. This is the price of our cheap clothing.
More than 70% of EU garment imports come from Asia, where China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia are the largest producers. The buyers are global brands – the ones we buy in our shops.
Spanish MEP Lola Sánchez Caldentey,said:
“The EU has the means to set common rules that establish mandatory human rights obligations on partner countries and we are asking the Commission to do so. Voluntary initiatives and codes of conduct are always welcome, but citizens expect more. The EU needs new rules to ensure that hard-working people who produce our clothes are treated with dignity and respect worldwide”
Her report adopted by the EU development committee on 21 March…
“calls on the European Commission to propose that European companies outsourcing production to countries outside the EU would be made responsible for checking that all of their supply chain respects OECD guidelines and international standards for human and social rights.”
And that there should be ” other measures, such as incentives and special labels for textiles that are produced in a sustainable manner”. The vote takes place in April.
And finally the Rana Plaza disaster in, Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 where 1,100 workers were killed and 2,500 injured when a building housing several clothes workshops collapsed. The building’s owners ignored the warning cracks appearing in the days before the tragedy . Currently it holds the record as the deadliest clothing factory fire.
The cost of our cheap clothing is the highest price paid by those who make it.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
Further Information: The True Cost