April 24, 2015- Today marks the two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, a tragedy that took the lives of 1,133 garment workers in Bangladesh and injured another 2,500. This was not the first disaster of its kind, but it may have been the first time that many people who are unfamiliar with how their clothes are produced became aware of industry challenges. The magnitude of human loss in one event increased its visibility and made it international news (see previous blog for more background). The tragic loss of lives was a direct result of the global fast-fashion industry that is run by fashion giants such as H&M, Forever 21, and Primark and funded by consumers who have come to expect fashion at rock bottom prices without knowing the full cost of those low figures (read more here).
THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE
Rana Plaza exposed the world to the reality of injustices embedded in the fast fashion industry. The immediate response was both promising. Government, civil society, businesses, and consumers responded to Rana Plaza by expressing their disapproval of exploitive business practices. This was significant, as many of these entities or groups had not previously weighed in on the matter. Their demands that the brands sourcing from the factory compensate the victims and their families seemed like a promising start toward accountability for the tragedy. A number of initiatives, including the Accord on Fire and Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, (the Alliance) the Better Work Program, and the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund were launched by the Bangladeshi government, civil society, and/or the companies themselves to help establish better, safer working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, hold brands accountable for their involvement, and facilitate compensation.
In 2014, on the one-year anniversary of Rana Plaza, a global coalition of fashion designers, academics, writers, business leaders and politicians launched Fashion Revolution Day as a day that “will bring everyone in the fashion value chain together and help to raise awareness of the true cost of fashion, show the world that change is possible, and celebrate all those involved in creating a more sustainable future” (Fashion Revolution). Fashion industry leaders and consumers around the world honored the victims and survivors of Rana Plaza and placed pressure on the global fashion industry to be more ethical and to compensate the victims and their families. Many who participated wore their clothes backwards to show where they came from, and the hashtag #whomadeyourclothes trended globally on social media, demonstrating the increased desire from consumers for supply chain transparency.
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