Friday, 3 May 2013

Labour behind the label

The story seems to be disappearing from the headlines but the latest estimate is that over 500 people have lost their lives in the clothing factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The tragedy has raised the issue of ethical trading and forced people to ask questions about how their discounted clothes can be produced at such cheap prices. However, my guess is that odhakance the media circus has moved on people will stop asking the questions and go back to picking up their ‘bargains’. And it isn’t just the discount stores who source their clothes from factories like the one in Dhaka.

Labour Behind the Label is an organisation committed to supporting garment workers' efforts worldwide to improve their working conditions. Anna McMullen, a campaigner with the organisation, has written a hard hitting piece for CNN in which she describes some of the issues behind the clothing trade and the work being done to help address the injustices faced by workers. McMullen argues that it is the clothing brands that must shoulder responsibility for addressing the problems:
Business must stop just holding up its hands to say: "It is not our fault -- they bought it." The responsibility for ensuring that a product was made with human rights in mind has to fall somewhere, and the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights says that it falls jointly to states and mass corporate businesses to "protect, respect and remedy" human rights.
In short, the brands, not the consumer, are the ones who must take responsibility for the endemic problems that this industry faces.
Along with other lobby groups, Labour Behind the Label is calling on businesses sourcing their products from Bangladesh to sign up to a transparent building and fire safety scheme.

While I fully support the campaign calling for brands to adopt the proposal, I can’t help feeling that we consumers should not be let off the hook. The simple truth is that brands depend on the consumer purchasing their products. If we stopped sourcing our clothes from brands that refuse to place a premium on workers’ safety and employment rights, then those businesses would have to reconsider their position because the only language they understand is the bottom line of a spread sheet. Think about it the next time you pick up 3 T-shirts for a fiver.

I’m grateful to my friend Kate Gowen, whose cousin wrote the CNN article, for drawing my attention to the work of Labour Behind the Label.

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