April 24, 2015, marks the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza Tragedy. The devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013 is to date, the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry worldwide.
This tragedy inspired filmmaker Andrew Morgan to create The True Cost, a documentary that would force consumers to face the harsh realities of “fast fashion.” Andrew Morgan recounts seeing harrowing images on the cover of the New York Times that struck his heart, and drove him to find any information he could on Rana Plaza in an interview with treehugger.com. Some of the most shocking and tragic statistics can be found below, from a report by the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights, unless otherwise linked.
3,639 workers toiled in five factories housed in the Rana Plaza building producing clothing for some U.S., Canadian and European clothing labels and retailers.
80% of the workers were young women, 18, 19 and 20 years of age.
A standard shift was 13 to 14 ½ hours, from 8:00 am to 9:00 or 10:30 pm, toiling 90 to 100 hours a week, with just two days off a month.
Young “helpers” earned 12 cents an hour, while “junior operators” took home 22 cents an hour ($10.56 a week), and senior sewers received 24 cents an hour ($12.48 a week).
On Wednesday morning, April 24, 2013, at 8:00 am, 3,639 workers refused to enter the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building because there were large and dangerous cracks in the factory walls. The owner, Sohel Rana, brought paid gang members to beat the women and men workers, hitting them with sticks to force them to go into the factory. Managers of the five factories housed in Rana Plaza also told the frightened workers, telling them that if they did not return to work, there would be no money to pay them for the month of April, which meant that there would be no food for them and their children. They were forced to go in to work at 8:00 am. At 8:45 am the electricity went out and the factories’ five generators kicked on. Almost immediately, the workers felt the eight-story building begin to move, and heard a loud explosion as the building collapsed, pancaking downward.
Twenty-five years of outsourcing garment production by the U.S. and European clothing manufacturers resulted in the conditions that contributed to the Rana Plaza collapse. However, it’s a shift in the industry: for 50 years, from 1938 to 1988, there were no sweatshops in the United States because workers had legal rights and strong unions.* On August 1, 1938, Life Magazine declared: “Thirty years ago the industry stank of the sweatshop and the cruelest kind of exploitation… Still numerous in 1933, the sweatshop is virtually gone today.”
This was in a large part due to the work the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) and International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) had put in to secure legal rights for garment workers. Almost 900,000 union workers in the garment industry had won a living wage, healthcare, benefits, vacations, health and safety protections … their rights.
But by the 1980s, the rampant job flight and factory closures decimated the garment industry in the United States. Today, the U.S. garment industry is a $350 billion operation that is carried on the backs of workers in developing countries, many of whom are children and teenagers forced to work long hours for unlivable wages, with no rights or justice.
Making a Change
Tragedies like the Rana Plaza are preventable, with changes to policy, business models and purchases. As a consumer, it can be overwhelming, but there is a need to be conscious of where our products come from and who they have impacted. It’s time for us to consider the true cost of our clothing; more than the price on the tag, we need to think about the human and environmental costs.
It’s why here at Dhana Inc., all of our lines are made with love at facilities that adhere to the fair trade principles. Our brands use sustainable fibers including FairTrade, GOTS Certified Cotton and low-impact dyes. We hope that our products will encourage our customers to think about how all of us are interconnected and interdependent with nature and each other. Don’t forget the power you have as a consumer, and the power of consciousness.
If you’d like to learn more about the Rana Plaza disaster, read more about the human impact of Rana Plaza in this Guardian article, or revisit our interviews with the director of The True Cost documentary, Andrew Morgan.