Apr 30, 2013

Is there blood on your T-shirt? Questions from Bangladesh’s tragedy

Hundreds of low-paid garment workers are dead after a factory collapse in Bangladesh. It's about time wealthy consumers in Western countries faced up to why their clothes are so cheap, argues Michele O'Neil, national secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.

Just last week I was in Singapore at a meeting of unionists organising textile, clothing and footwear workers around the world. Safety in Bangladesh was high on our agenda and raised in nearly every issue and plan we discussed. The Bangladesh union leaders there spoke of workers’ fear, of the union not being able to enter workplaces, of long hours, pay too low to live on, of the horror of fires and not just the grief of death, but the life-long injuries and pain of those who survived. They described searching through the burnt remains of Bangladesh’s Tazeen factory in November last year (where 112 workers died) for labels to prove which companies had been manufacturing there as all were denying responsibility.

Two days after that meeting in Singapore, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh.

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12 thoughts on “Is there blood on your T-shirt? Questions from Bangladesh’s tragedy

  1. zut alors

    The author makes several valid points.

    Unfortunately, the lure to buy t-shirts made in Bangladesh is not necessarily the price but the superior quality of their cotton fabrics.

    If Oz manufacturers selected better textiles for their clothing I’d have no need to look overseas. I suspect they use inferior material to offset the higher cost of Oz wages. There’s the dilemma.

  2. jmendelssohn

    What would help Michele, would be to publish a list of ethical clothing manufacturers. I don’t just mean companies that manufacture their labels in Australia, but worldwide.

  3. Lee Miller

    Now we will need to ask how many people have died to give me cheap clothing.

  4. klewso

    What I can’t understand is how this “illegal building” went up without anyone (in authority) noticing?

  5. Venise Alstergren

    Although I live in t-shirts I’ve yet to find one made in Bangladesh and apart from FDOTM t-shirts, made in America, all the others come from overseas. As ZUT points out, the ones from overseas have a far better cotton fabric; better seams and neck-bands, and longer lasting inks, than the local variety.

    How can anyone educate the buyer when traditionally Australians always buy by low price, rather than quality?

  6. redtrigger

    The first reaction from the Bangladeshi government was to say the building was illegal. Really?? Well why has the government not done something about it? What building codes exist in Bangladesh? What level of inspection and approvals exists? The response from the textile union is so predictable it is almost amusing. As always its the greedy manufacturers fault. It’s the consumers fault. It’s everyones fault it seems but the poor starving locals. How patronising. I suggest that Michele and Bono get together at the next TED conference for a little weep over it; and then condemn western nations for….well, everything.

    As a first world society with laws and standards we should be looking at the failed, corrupt government. A government very quick to point fingers at everyone except itself.

  7. Harry Rogers

    “in Singapore at a meeting of unionists”

    Sounds like an oxymoron.

  8. Tuckerman Clare

    @jmendelssohn: Just google it. But to save you time:

  9. supermundane

    What has occurred in Bangladesh is a manifestation of real class warfare.

    Class warfare in that the appalling wages and conditions these clothing companies can get away with in states like Bangladesh constitute a direct attack on the hard-won rights and conditions of all working people in Australia. Class warfare in that working people in Australia and other western states have a responsibility to see that all workers worldwide are treated with dignity and receive just and fair renumeration for a day’s work, recognising that it’s in the interests of the owners of capital for workers globally to be competing with each other in a race to the bottom.
    And it’s class warfare when we realise that in the main if the owners of capital could get away with it such wages and conditions here, they would.

  10. klewso

    “What’s a few lives : profits?”?

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