Today I had planned a cheery blog post. A bit of a catch up of all the things I've been knitting and working on. I've quite a few FOs I am yet to share with you.
But then last night I watched Four Corners, which for those of you not in Australia or not familiar with it, is an Investigative Journalism show of high calibre. I love this show. This, for me, is why I once upon a time wanted to be a journalist.
Last night's episode was about the fashion industry's factory workers in Bangladesh. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop thinking about the sadness, the inhumanity and the lack of responsibility that was portrayed. I can't stop thinking about how unintentionally the majority of Australians, and indeed the majority of those in the first world, are complicit in the horrendous conditions that these workers are forced to endure.
Like most people I was pretty horrified by the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh a few months ago. But it really wasn't until I watched this investigation that I really and truly felt empathy for these people. This is the story of some of those people and the bleak future they now face. For these people, the beautiful women with such sad sad eyes, many missing limbs, I just feel utter sadness. I feel helpless.
What was just as disturbing was just how quickly the big fashion labels that had their clothes made there attempted to wash their hands of the matter. Some pretended that they had no dealings with Rana Plaza when clearly there was paperwork just lying in the rubble to prove otherwise. How is it, that a company can behave this way?
Today I overheard two elderly ladies discussing the program; the lady who had obviously watched it seemed equally horrified as me. She was explaining how little these people earn; some less than 20cents an hour. The other lady's response was, what I guess is typical and perhaps western societies way of trying to tell ourselves it is ok; "but I guess that's quite a bit for them."
Well, no it's not.
It's not a lot here and it's not a lot there.
It's crap pay no matter how you look at it, without even considering the rest of inhumane and woeful conditions the Bangladeshi factory workers are forced to work in.
It's crap. Plain and simple.
It's crap to see mothers who have to work in the city and can only afford to go home to see their children once a year. It's crap that some of the factory owners told the camera that Australian companies are always squeezing for a cheaper and cheaper price. It's crap that Australian companies who manufacture in Bangladesh refuse to be open about where their clothing is manufactured. It's so very crap that cheap clothing has become more important than the well-being of our fellow human beings. It's beyond crap that workers are locked in their factories and are unable to escape if there's a fire.
I feel quite helpless but I also feel really affected by what I saw last night. If you can, please watch it.
So what do we do?
What do I do as an individual and what do we do as a society?
Watching last night, I wanted to be able to send money regularly to support those women injured from the Rana Plaza collapse, I wanted to somehow help and ease their pain. I'm not sure that's possible or the answer.
I also wanted to know it won't happen again. Since the collapse many companies, Australian ones included, have become signatories to the Bangladeshi Safety Accord. I'm cynical that that's really going to make much of a difference. I'm not particularly fooled by tokenism. I'd love to see the CEOs of these big fashion labels visit their factories and do something pro-active to make them safe and working conditions fair and humane. I'd love to see them take a stance and tell the factory owners that they'll only deal with those who treat their workers fairly and pay them properly.
Do my buying habits change? I think so. I hope so. I don't think I can support those stores who refused to be transparent about where their clothing is made, or who don't care about the conditions their factories are in.
Evidence suggests that Australians are willing to pay a bit more for our clothing if it means these workers are treated better and paid properly. You know what, there's already clothing companies out there that do this. So why do we still buy the cheap stuff? Why, when there are the alternatives?
I do try and buy fair trade and organic clothing as much as possible, mostly online. I've done the year without buying clothes thing a couple of times. But in a small country town where Target is the only kids' clothing store, I have to admit it is too easy to slip in there for something when you're in a rush. It's just too easy to not think about it.
I don't know that I'll never do it again, I'd like to think I won't and I hope that every time I think about going in there, I'll think about those faces I saw on tv last night. I'll think about those sad eyes and the missing limbs that are now a part of daily life for those people. I'll think about the lack of compensation they received for losing so much.
I'll think about what they lost just so we can pick up a $5 t-shirt.
And hopefully, I'll leave it behind and spend a bit more and purchase a t-shirt that's fair trade.
Keep in touch
Who am I?
Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
Print Patterns for LYS available from:
Stuff I talk about: