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Is the blood of those slave workers in Bangladesh squarely on our hands?

(39 Posts)
granjura Wed 01-May-13 22:22:09

Is it? I think it would be hard to say no.

absent Thu 02-May-13 07:17:35

I started saying a variety of things here and then deleted what I had written on the grounds that I was just equivocating. The short answer is yes – and we should be ashamed for turning a blind eye until this horror happened.

NannaB Thu 02-May-13 07:21:17

Yes. It's the price paid for cheap clothes.

Riverwalk Thu 02-May-13 07:32:47

If by 'squarely in our hands' you mean entirely our fault, then no.

Obviously Western companies and customers of Primark etc., bear some responsibility but countries like Bangladesh need trade.

The prime responsibility lies with the corrupt governments that blight the lives of their poor people. I heard on the radio that something like 10% of MPs/Ministers in BD are directors of clothing manufacturing companies.

petallus Thu 02-May-13 07:44:51


gillybob Thu 02-May-13 07:56:15

I agree with Riverwalk we should take some level of responsibility but the blame surely lies at the feet of the factory owners. How can the representatives of every British company (Primark, Mango etc) be expected to be at every factory all of the time?

Gorki Thu 02-May-13 08:47:19

I agree with Riverwalk but I feel so powerless when all I can do is sign petitions and send money.

Stansgran Thu 02-May-13 09:20:11

There used to be factories here in the NE where good quality clothes were made for top of the range names. They all were closed down because people love cheap. If you shop at primary matalan or Bon marche then feel guilty . I certainly don't as ive never been in one and as I look at the labels and try to buy British , but as some American said to me recently doesn't matter where it says its made its third world.

harrigran Thu 02-May-13 09:29:41

We did have some excellent clothing being made in the north east, very difficult to find British made clothes now. Phase eight do say British made on their labels, at least on the items I have bought.

vegasmags Thu 02-May-13 10:09:28

I think consumers have to take some responsibility for the choices that they make - always assuming they have enough money to make a choice. I have never shopped at Primark, but I understand the pressures of trying to clothe a growing family on a very limited budget. Having said that, it is very difficult to source so called ethical clothing, and we have to take quite a lot on trust. I think one of the problems is that we have become used to cheap clothing, and lots of it. A bit of sunshine and the shops are packed with people hunting for summer clothes, although realistically we will be lucky to have enough decent weather to wear them for more than a few weeks.

Last year, I read Factory Girls by L T Chang, which puts Chinese factories under the microscope. From this, I learned that it takes 9 or 10 hours to produce a pair of Nike trainers, typically selling in the UK for £70 or £80. You don't have to be a maths genius (which I most certainly am not) to work out that by the time the raw materials, advertising, shipping etc are paid for, there's not going to be a lot left to pay the workers.

The argument that countries like Bangladesh need the trade was also used to attempt to prevent the introduction of fair trade coffee and bananas, yet both these products have gone on to commercial success.

I agree with previous posters that we could reintroduce clothing manufacturing in the UK if, and it's a big if, consumers were prepared to pay the true cost.

granjura Thu 02-May-13 10:13:30

petallus, would you care to elaborate on your 'no'?

Absent, I agree with you. We want cheaper and cheaper clothes - and that is the price to pay. Another factor is that so many people wear clothes for such a short time before throwing away - Primark t-shirts are worn just a few times. And of course, nobody mends anything now. A button missing? Chuck it. A bit of seam broken? Chuck it?

Those factory owners and the re-sellers want to make money - if WE asked more guarantees of safe production, decent salaries and conditions- and agreed to take on part of the cost ourselves in higher prices - they would make changes, because without those (verifiable) guarantees they would not sell. As in all retail, WE the customers determine what's what, and the price we are prepared to pay for this.

gillybob Thu 02-May-13 10:26:38

Yes Stansgran Dewhirsts (spelling?) factory in Sunderland made clothes for M&S (when M&S could say their clothes were made in Britain) and was a big employer in the region. The prices were no doubt driven by the ruthlessness of M&S (and many big retailers like them) and the factories in the UK could not compete with the prices available in India, Pakistan etc. The same could probably be said for Electrical goods.

petallus Thu 02-May-13 10:37:25

I meant no, their blood is not on our hands, or I suppose I can only say not on MY hands.

All those who feel it is on their hands could mobilise now to prevent the next tragedy from happening since I suppose there are more than one of these unsafe clothing factories around.

Aka Thu 02-May-13 10:48:18

more than one unsafe clothing factory

This was only a few months ago, again in Bangladesh.

granjura Thu 02-May-13 11:12:56

Must say I am very proud to say that the 2 big supermarket chains here (Migros and Coop) do take their responsibilities here VERY seriously, re welfare and conditions of workers abroad, be they strawberry pickers in Spain, or workers in Bangladesh. And with regard to using on wood from sustainable forests, cutting down on palm oil and only using palm oil from sustainable and ethical sources. Same with husbandry, feeds, antibiotics, transport, slaughter, etc, etc, of meat animals. But yes, that does mean you can't buy 2 large chickens for a 5er here.

A huge amount of food is wasted in the UK because it is 'too' cheap- and not respected. 2 for 1 offers are the worst- as people can't resist them and then second chicken or 2nd bag of fruit and veg gets thrown away (rather than frozen, or cooked and kept in fridge, etc. Left overs are thrown away - hardly anybody makes stock with bones, etc. Cheap = no respect too often. Be it clothes, be it food.

grannyactivist Thu 02-May-13 11:21:15

The choices we make as consumers affect the lives of other people. Unless the public/consumer pushes retailers to be proactive and do more to protect workers the retailers have little incentive to make changes. When I go into a shop I check the label before I buy. If the clothing is made outside of Europe I ask about the shop's policy on ethical trading: when I first started doing this the assistants looked at me as if I had grown two heads - nowadays they're more used to the question and can often give an answer. It's been estimated that the increase in the cost of clothing to ensure good working conditions/pay etc. is around just 5%.

Grannyknot Thu 02-May-13 11:24:55

This is such a complex subject, I agree with river and gillybob. I've never bought anything from Primark but I have taken my young niece there at her request with the £20 I gave her - so in that sense I am guilty too.

The problem is wider than clothes as others have said, I often think when I buy food that the poor farmer must have got nothing for e.g. his mushroom crop because at the price it is impossible for the producer to have made a profit. I know when we first arrived here from SA we were dazzled by the BOGOF deals but we soon realised that we were throwing food out and couldn't cope with that, so we stopped buying those deals.

The thing that makes me very sad is when I see African beadwork and I know the woman who made that relies on the work to feed her family.

Bags Thu 02-May-13 11:35:39

Complex is the word. I do not feel personal guilt for appalling working conditions in Bangladesh or other places, but I do feel personal responsibility to do all within my power to help people in any way I can. The complexity is knowing what is going to be most effective, or even effective at all. My feeling with places like the Bangladesh factory is that those workers need a trade union. That's what got workers in this country out of similar working conditions.

And eventually sent the industry giants overseas where labour was cheaper.

No easy answers.

Eloethan Thu 02-May-13 13:54:50

Bags I agree with you. I would not knowingly buy clothes from a shop/brand that sourced its products from overseas sweatshops. However, even though I never buy dirt cheap clothes (e.g. as found at Primark), there is really no way I can be sure that the clothes I buy have been ethically manufactured. If I don't have access to this information, why must I feel guilty? The only thing I feel I can do is sign petitions and voice my opinions - a bit feeble but what else can an individual do?

These workers do need trades unions and perhaps trades unions in the developed world should concentrate more on the implications of global trade and strategies to build solidarity with people in other countries so that one group of workers isn't undercutting another group. Easier said than done, I know, especially when poor people are not really in a position to turn down work, even when they're appallingly paid and treated.

vegasmags Thu 02-May-13 14:12:53

In China, independent trade unions are illegal. The only one allowed is the huge trade union - state run of course - to which there are no free elections.

granjura Thu 02-May-13 14:22:50

We don't have access to this info because we don't ask. I am not talking individually (although I'd encourage it) - but as a society. We could all put pressure on manufacturers, via questions to shop managers, Head Office, but especially through our MPs and organisations like WHICH, and charities like Oxfam, etc. I'm afraid it is just too easy to say 'don't know- so not my problem', surely.

It is not just Primark of course, but all the cheap labels and also some more expensive brands. Let's ask all - individually and as a society - and if we do not have the info, ASK AND ASK AGAIN.

vegasmags Thu 02-May-13 14:30:00

The Guardian has compiled an ethical fashion directory

and I'm sure there must be others.

GillieB Thu 02-May-13 17:17:09

Like others I do not feel responsible for this tragedy and, to be honest, I don't think the cheap chains are to blame, either. They are responsible for pay and conditions but I can't see how they can be responsible for building regulations as well! Evidently the building owner just decided to put two more storeys on this complex to maximise his profits. It would never occur to me that building regulations would not have been followed. Yes, we are all culpable when it comes down to poor pay and working conditions, but how on earth does anyone check that a building has been constructed correctly.

Eloethan Thu 02-May-13 18:39:39

granjura Yes, you're probably right - I suppose it is a bit of a cop out and I need to be more pro-active in making enquiries myself. Also, I'll look at vegas's link to the ethical fashion directory (thanks vegas).

GillieB Though I don't think cheap clothing chains should be held responsible for an owner adding extra floors to a building, I suspect that most of the buildings housing these clothing manufacturers are of a similar poor and dangerous quality. Maybe companies like Primark should periodically inspect these workshops and, if necessary, make future orders conditional on owners, within a set amount of time, fulfilling certain basic comfort and safety standards.

Nelliemoser Tue 21-May-13 14:33:44

I have just bumped this thread re the Bangladesh factory disater!

I had an email from "Avaaz " about this international petition trying to get GAP and others to insist on safe working conditions for their staff some companies have already agreed to insist improvement are made, GAP appear to be hedging their bets on this issue.

The Avaaz organisation acts to put public pressure on governments companies etc to try to stop exploitation.

For those who expressed their horror at this in the OP, this is where to make your point to GAP.