Dhaka collapse – has anything changed in overseas manufacture?

The clothing factory collapse in Dhaka in April, and now a fire overnight which has killed 8 in the same city, once again raises huge concerns about the working conditions of overseas workers making clothing for Western markets.

Primark clothing labels were just one brand found amongst the rubble in the Dhaka collapse on 24th April, and the investigation which has followed clearly demonstrates that workers are still experiencing terrible conditions despite assurances from our biggest retailers that they carefully monitor all the suppliers of their stock.

But on Wednesday Bangladesh announced the closure of 18 garment factories over safety fears, reinforcing the belief that nothing much has changed.

What this disaster shows is that the welfare of workers abroad has once again lapsed. But how many of us believe company claims that they do monitor where their stock comes from? The price of the garment alone tells us that somewhere along the production chain someone is losing out and you can bet it isn’t the UK retailer or the boss running the factories abroad.

Primark says it is going to compensate the families of people lost in the collapse, supply emergency food aid to families and support children who have lost their parents in the disaster. But this is hardly good enough. After all the protests and investigations of the last few years, this disaster should not have happened in the first place and Primark throwing money at it post disaster is little more than an insult. Long  term it is not going to ease the lives of those people who have lost relatives and bread winners.

Pressure from customers and welfare groups is the only thing which is going to keep our retailers in check and make sure they don’t slip into bad habits again. But as the recession continues to keep a tight grip on our purse strings, we have turned a blind eye and kept buying cheap imports without stopping to question the origin of our purchases.

Not only is this kind of cheap production allowing manufacturers abroad to continue treating their workers appallingly but it is also undermining ethical suppliers, retailers and our homegrown industry which does not use slave labour for profit and as a result is still struggling to survive.

These recent tragedies should be a timely reminder that nothing has changed and that it is the power of the spending public which will ultimately improve conditions. But I wonder whether anything will really change and how many more disasters we are going to witness before someone finally says enough really is enough.

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