Journalist Yasmin Khatun writes about the consumerism, bad ethics and the corrosive effects of the garments industry and fast fashion a year on from Rana Plaza disaster.
On the 24th of April one year ago a large garment manufacturing unit located in Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, collapsed.
Left inside were only garment workers, forced to go back into a building with cracks on its
walls and ready to fall. Mainly women and young mothers, heading back into a building on the verge of collapse upon orders by their managers.
This is the world of garment workers, the result of greed, corruption, injustice and rampant
Built upon shoddy ground, the Rana Plaza complex which collapsed last year was built using fast-tracked contracts by owners affiliated with local politicians. Safety didn’t seem high on the priority list.
Weeks into the collapse the blame-game began, but due to a lack of transparency in the supply chain many were able to evade being confronted by simply passing the buck.
With a heaving industrial base, Bangladesh is heavily reliant upon its trade. This money-maker accounts for 80% of the country’s annual GDP and had facilitated the 6% growth the country has seen annually over the last seventeen years.
So you’d think the 3.6 million workforce from the 150 million population would be on the priority list. Right?
Wrong. From being locked into rooms with no fire exits, overheated from the machinery
inside, to being paid peanuts and dismissed with no upholding of any rights, garment workers are at the bottom of the ladder where it’s all too easy to take advantage of them.
But of course as the World Bank pushes Bangladesh to keep up with the demands of western consumers and ramp-up investment in industry, the road to success is being built for money-makers at the top of the ladder.
Billion pound fashion industry
The garments sector has brought about many a story and with its “successes” have come fires, water poisoning and the Rana Plaza collapse.
Over a thousand people lost their lives and more than two thousand were left injured as a result of the factory collapse. Built on swampy ground the factory was built without adequate paperwork and was very close to having further storeys built.
A year later garment workers still suffer from the ills of our billion-pound fashion industry. Awareness is being raised and pressure has been placed on governments and buyers to act but consumers must also understand this rampant consumerism and the ills that it can bring about.
Weeks after the collapse there were reports of water poisoning. Six months on, a factory fire in which there were nine fatalities and at least a further fifty injured. For those looking at the sector these aren’t strange occurrences.
We can see what’s going on, we see it on our backs, in our stores, on the high street and on the TV but why is it that we don’t take this seriously? Is it because we can enjoy the exploits of fast fashion, because we’ve become disengaged from our purchases or just simply enjoy the lifestyle rampant consumerism brings about?
Are we so taken aback by the slogans emblazoned on our T-shirts that we lose consciousness of our consumption, lose consciousness of the roll that we play – forgetting that we should be the most conscious of them all?
Our religion teaches us to be conscious of our actions, conscious of the way we interact with others and our impact on this world. We must stand with those who stand up against injustices, protect those taken advantage of and those who are being abused.
In the garments industry there are different players at all levels of the chain. The government, businessmen, factory owners, buyers and consumers – everyone has a role to play, but our script need not be determined by others.
A £2 T-shirt may not have a great impact on you here but it does impact our brothers and sisters abroad. We may not feel the pinch of a pound but however much a garment or any purchase costs you it means something elsewhere too. As a part of a globalised world we impact each other in many ways and we are ever more connected.
Day of action
Countries all around the world are calling for and participating in a day of action; asking who made your clothes? – this question exists to reconnect the chain and reform that connection, because maybe if there was a reminder of that connection we’d value our purchases a little more.
You may not care about your garments, but you should care about the workers behind them and consider the implications of your purchases. Educate your mind to think before you buy. Ethics in fashion is not just for middle class non-Muslim women and those with money, it’s an issue of a conscious and thinking mind.
Over 1.2 million tons of clothing is buried into a landfill each year and we’re consuming more than four times the amount we did 20 odd years ago. We weren’t made to be a wasteful Ummah.
Many are educating themselves on this particular topic but it seems to me Muslims are lagging behind. In sha’Allah this will change as our codes of practise are all there to see, on occasion we need a little reminder so think as you consume because you are a thinking mind.
Yasmin Khatun is a journalist and producer, working in both print and broadcast. At Islam Channel she produces the news programme The Report and works on investigative documentaries. In her written work she contributes to various publications including The Huffington Post, writing about current affairs, ethics and fashion.
Her documentary Slave Industry: A year on from Rana Plaza will air on the Islam Channel on the 24th of April 2014 at 9pm
And she will chair a special screening of the documentary at the London Muslim Centre on Sunday 27th of April 2014 at 6pm. The screening will be followed by an open discussion on ethics in Islam, the garments industry and rampant consumerism. Guest speakers include Sheikh Shams Ad-Duha from Ebrahim college and Orsola de Castro from the British Fashion Council.