'The True Cost'
Juliet Glennie reflects on the event 'Who Made My Clothes' as part of Fashion Revolution week
When Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, 1134 people were killed. This was the worst incident in the history of the fashion industry to date, but it wasn’t the first of its kind.
Rana Plaza happened due to the fashion industry becoming increasingly obsessed with mass-produced, low cost clothing and less interested in the value of human lives. It’s this culture that gave rise to Andrew Morgan’s documentary 'The True Cost' that explores the impact of fashion on people and the planet.
The documentary was screened at Fashion Revolution's event 'Who Made My Clothes,' at the London South Bank University. A panel discussed the documentary after the screening.
The panel included:
- Jaya Gajparia, PhD scholar in Sociology and Development,
- Tansy E Hoskins, author of ‘Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion,’
- Marianne Caroline Hughes, Fashion Revolution Representative and sustainable Fashion blogger,
- Dominic O’Hagan Activism and Sweatshop Free Co-ordinator at People and Planet,
- Halima Begum, senior advisor at the British Council,
- Maria Low, Garment Sector lead in Bangladesh for DFiD.
DFiD’s Maria Low recalled her personal experience in Bangladesh and the stories of people who had been injured, paralysed and bereaved at Rana Plaza. She described the government’s work on the Bangladesh Accord that aims to build ‘a safe and healthy Ready Made Garment industry’ through the independent agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions. She discussed how the extent of the suffering at Rana Plaza and the intensity of the public outcry made the tragedy impossible to ignore.
Tansy Hoskins responded that whilst the Accord was a valuable step, the tragedy was far from impossible to ignore for the many global brands and retailers who didn’t sign up to the accord until several weeks after it was created, and in several cases required significant pressure from activists before getting involved. People and Planet’s Dominic O’Hagan, supported this perspective and highlighted how some of the more expensive luxury brands took longer to sign up, whereas budget retailers such as Primark were some of the first to the table.
Halima Begum raised the issue that in many ways the harm caused by the fashion industry is a gendered issue - the majority of garment workers being women and girls in developing countries and fashion advertising being heavily directed at women and girls of the Western world. She also emphasised that whilst labour standards could be improved in one country, the fashion industry is quick to respond by relocating manufacturing to a country without the employment laws that defend its workers.
Much of the discussion was based around what we can do to fix this broken system. The documentary interviewed People Tree’s Safia Minney and other ethical clothing brands. Hoskins pointed out that these brands are great but few people can afford to buy them. The panel agreed that in order to heal the damage inflicted by the fashion industry, the entire system of production, distribution and waste would need to change as well as individual attitudes towards mass consumption. O’Hagan argued that a choice between unethical products was not an acceptable choice at all.
Maria Low encouraged the audience to contact their MP and speak up about what needed to change. Halima Begum put forward that our voices can be louder when we campaign together and harness the power of social media. O’Hagan emphasised the importance of finding out what the workers themselves are calling for and direct our campaigning efforts there. Hoskins encouraged individuals to get involved with organisations like Fashion Revolution, Labour Behind the Label, People and Planet and the National Garment Workers Federations, all of whom are doing excellent work and always need more support.
Marianne Caroline Hughes encouraged designers and businesses to get involved with Redress, an organisation that can advise on ethical sourcing and holds workshops on upcycling and other alternative methods of production. She also encouraged everyone to tweet their clothing labels to #fashrevwall and #whomademyclothes as part of Fashion Revolution’s aim to bring together the collective voices of everyone calling for greater transparency and ethical standards in the fashion industry.
Whilst the obstacles in the fight for an ethical, sustainable fashion industry are powerful, it's clear that we must stand up and say no to an industry that allows the people of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and many other countries to pay for fast fashion with their lives.
Ethical Consumer, together with Fashion Revolution, have released the inaugural Fashion Transparency Index. This includes 40 of the biggest global fashion brands and ranks them according to the level of transparency in their supply chain.