Celebrity News

Where your clothes come from and what you can do about it

Where your clothes come from and what you can do about it

Inside a garment factory in Bangladesh. Photography by Nick Cubbin.

To investigate where clothing in some of our favourite Australian stores comes from,The Weeklyvisited Bangladesh last month. What we saw was eye-opening and at times shocking (see the November issue for more). So what can you — the shopper — do about it?

When we hear about the poor conditions faced by workers making clothes for some of our most popular brands, there appear to be two knee-jerk responses.

Firstly, there’s a desire to push it out of our minds and not think about it. That’s not too hard, given countries like Bangladesh are so far away and removed from our everyday reality.

Secondly, others resolve not to buy clothes with theMade in Bangladeshtag. This may seem like a solution: that way you’re not supporting an industry in which workers are exploited and face risks like factory fires or collapses.

But neither of these reactions is the right answer.

By refusing to think about it, we’re becoming complicit in a mass human rights violation that saw the worst industrial accident in modern history — in which more than 1,100 workers die under tonnes of concrete in a factory collapse only six months ago.

And a boycott only harms people — mostly women, often mothers — who 100 per cent rely on their income from working in the garment industry to feed, clothe and shelter their families.

So what can we do?

The good news is we’re not powerless — and we don’t need to all go and buy expensive hand-woven hemp robes and sandals. We live in the real world and we need to find real world answers.

There is an important initiative called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh: a legally binding agreement to boost safety standards, protect workers and secure a financial commitment from Western retailers.

Some of our big brands should be applauded for taking the first step of signing it. They include Target, Kmart, Cotton On, Big W, Forever New and Speciality Fashion Group (Katies, Millers).

Kmart has gone one step further and agreed to publish a list of factories it sources from, allowing for independent inspections.

Companies that have not yet signed the Accord include The Just Group (Just Jeans, Jay Jays), Rivers, Best & Less and Pacific Brands (Bonds, Berlei and more). Perhaps they’re planning to sign in the future. Or maybe they’re hoping the fuss will blow over.

So if you like shopping in these stores, get online and leave a message for them on Facebook. Leave feedback on their websites. Tweet them. Send an email or letter.

Submit your ideas — would you pay $1 more if there was a green tag that could guarantee workers had better pay and conditions, for example? Demand real, continuing, visible change.

It may seem like a David versus Goliath task but just remember, big brands need customers and trade on their reputation — so they value what you think.

The power really is in your hands.

Read more of this story in the November issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Related stories

Unwind and relax with your favourite magazine!

Huge savings plus FREE home delivery