The owner of Bangladesh's Rana Plaza, the home of a handful of fast fashion garment factories, which collapsed in April 2013, killing more than 1,130 people, has been charged in a construction violation lawsuit. The suit, which specifically names Mohammad Sohel Rana, comes after the Anti-Corruption Commission filed a separate case last month with Bangladesh police accusing 17 people of breaching regulations over the construction of the building. Rana was not named in that suit, as he is not identified in documents covering ownership of the land and design approval, which listed his parents, instead. Rana was arrested after a four-day hunt shortly after the building collapsed, apparently trying to flee across the border to India, and is currently being detained.
Low labor costs and the disregard of both safety and quality standards make Bangladesh one of the cheapest places in the world to manufacture large quantities of clothing. As such, it comes as little shock that an array of fast fashion brands source a significant number of their garments and accessories from third party suppliers in Bangladesh, many of which were located in Rana Plaza. A number of safety accords have been put in place in regards to manufacturing and safety standards in Bangladesh, including voluntary pacts among retailers. Moreover, as of late last year, the government raised the minimum wage for garment workers by 77 percent to 5,300 taka ($68 a month, making Bangladesh garment workers the lowest paid in Asia after those in Myanmar) and amended the labour law to boost workers’ rights, including the freedom to form trade unions. It is also cooperating with garment factory inspections by safety experts hired by retailer brands.
Still, a distress label (later deemed to be a hoax), which was found on a garment sold by UK-based fast fashion label, Primark (the chain that has just recently outpaced Zara as the largest manufacturer in Spain) and reports that the nearly half of garment factories in Bangladesh are failing to pay in accordance with the new minimum wage standard, suggests that all is still not well over a year after the tragedy. Further unrest stems from the fact that array of proposals to increase safety at factories in Bangladesh are being deemed "not financially feasible" by big brands, which have avoided signing on to "legally binding and costly" procedures to implement safety and quality standards.
And yet, sales of fast fashion have not stopped climbing. For the month of June, Swedish fast fashion giant, H&M reported a 12% growth in sales. Primark boasted growth of 8% in the three months ending on June 21st, as the discount retailer prepares to launch in the U.S. market. Los Angeles-based Forever 21 and its super-low priced sister brand, F 21 Red, continue to thrive. The brand maintains a current count of 469 stores and plans to expand to 1,200 stores globally within the next three years. Many of these brands continue to source from Bangladesh. Factories located in Ashulia, the industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka, account for 35 percent of Bangladesh’s garment output and supply retailers including H&M and Wal-Mart, giving rise to the world’s second largest garment industry. In fact, Bangladesh’s export in the fiscal year ending in June hit a record $30-billion, up 11 percent from the year prior. While accessible luxury leader, Michael Kors, made headlines this week, predicting that the end of fast fashion is near, I find it extremely hard to believe given the skyrocketing numbers in terms of fast fashion revenue and growth and the emphasis of the industry continuing to be placed on the need for seasonal garments and accessories, but we can hope.