In April that we told you about the Bangladesh factory that tragically collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. This news came not long after fires swept through two different factories, also in Bangladesh, claiming innocent lives. And so, it seems obvious that these factories operate well below what the standards should be and the workers are likely subjected to long hours in poor conditions, which is why we wish that the story ended there. The sad fact is, though, that the common thread to these factories is that they are used to produce fast fashion. And despite the overwhelming proof that people’s lives are at stake in producing said clothing, consumers are still flocking to fast fashion retailers. WWD reports, for example, that H&M’s sales recently saw a 14 percent increase in sales.
After the Bangladesh tragedies, we saw several steps in the right direction: the Obama Administration suspended Bangladesh’s “special trade privileges;” Zara and H&M signed on to support a Bangladesh safety accord, which provides for improved safety conditions and standards in Bangladesh factories; and Diane von Furstenberg, designer and president of the CFDA, issued a note regarding safety and fairness in the workplace, as well as a recommended Supplier Code of Conduct and Certification document.
But is this enough? While, it is one thing (and a commendable one at that) for retailers to sign an accord calling for better work conditions in the factories that provide the clothing, it’s another thing entirely to actually change an old habit. It’s not logical at all to think that fast fashion retailers have suddenly lost the overwhelming desire to make the most profit, which means there are probably still extremely low labor costs involved in providing relatively low-cost clothing that consumers will buy in mass quantitates.
This means is that the consumer is partially fueling the problem. Now we aren’t holding our breath that consumers will stop buying from these stores entirely, or at least until we can be sure that proper methods are being used to manufacture the clothing. This would be an impossible expectation. What we are hoping for, however, is that consumers are making informed purchases and that they are aware that with every season’s fast fashion wardrobe update, they are potentially putting someone’s life at risk.
Jennifer Williams is a law student, who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. For more from Jennifer, visit her blog, StartFashionPause, or follow her on Twitter.