How much did your T-shirt cost?

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How much did your T-shirt cost?

Elizabeth Tyler shares her views on the recent garment factory collapse killing 273 people
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How much did your T-shirt cost? Read Elizabeth Tyler's blog here! http://ow.ly/krSvx
Friday, April 26, 2013 - 12:15pm

CONTENT: Blog

Today we hear that at least 273 people in Bangladesh have been killed by a collapsing garment factory. The news of the collapse came out on Wednesday, but it has taken until now for the scale of the disaster to be fully realised.

The collapse wasn’t a freak accident, or a surprise. On Tuesday, cracks were noticed in the structure of the Rana Plaza factory, in which factories such as ‘New Wave’ were housed. Following evacuation of the building on Tuesday, most other businesses in the Rana Plaza told their employees to stay away on Wednesday. Not so the New Wave factories. New Wave workers – mostly women – were allegedly ordered to carry on as normal, making clothes for companies all over the world. When the inevitable happened, hundreds of workers - and their children in the factory crèches - were trapped, injured and killed by the falling building. There were several moments when this disaster could have been averted.

It has since emerged that companies such as Primark and BonMarché, known for their low-cost clothes, used New Wave factories in their supply chain. Whilst both retailers voluntarily – and swiftly - acknowledged the fact, and expressed distress over the tragedy, real action has failed to materialise. In 2012 the two retailers refused to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which would have ensured the independent inspection of any factory used as a supplier. Perhaps such an inspection would have prevented these deaths.

Although many companies have come a long way on the road to ethical and sustainable supply chains, Marks and Spencer and Puma are two shining examples, this is not the case for all. Clearly companies for whom CHEAP is the primary requirement, face more challenges in addressing these issues. Primark and BonMarché’s refusal to sign up to the most basic agreements on workers’ conditions and a reliance on a supply chain based on minimal wages, long hours and low overheads make such disasters almost inevitable.

But consumers also bear responsibility. The idea that t-shirts can, and should, cost as little £4 is fundamentally flawed. If cotton is to be farmed sustainably, workers paid properly, and factories kept in safe working order, such a price starts to sound too low. So yes, companies need to address these issues, but we, as consumers, also need to think a little more about what the true cost of a t-shirt really is.

Keywords: Social Impact & Volunteering | Bangladesh | Bonmarche | CR | Corporate Citizenship | Primark | csr | factory collapse | labour rights | new wave | sustainability

CONTENT: Blog

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