I have been following the horrific collapse of the textile factory in Bangladesh. As of today – 1127 people have died. Most of the employees in the garment industry are women. Many are mothers who have left children behind. It is back breaking, extremely low paying work.
It is corporate violence against women and we are all complicit.
As I have been getting dressed in the morning lately I have wondered if one of those women may have sewn what I am wearing that day and I feel sadness, guilt and powerlessness.
I read the accounts of survivors and families left behind and I clammer for information about what I can do. The power and force of globalization is overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable.
On the positive side, there have been actions taken in Bangladesh and by some corporations to address things like rights to unionize and agreements around factory conditions. It is unclear of any of these processes have any weight or influence.
So what can we do?
Some say we should just buy North American made.
This to me is a admirable goal but I don’t see how that helps people working in Bangladesh. The reality we live in is that upwards of 90% of the garment industry exists outside of North America. It is unlikely that messages to seek out the 10% of North American made clothing will result in any changes for the lives of workers overseas. It is nearly impossible to find these items for the average person. Ultimately, I believe the burden should be on companies to change their practices – not the consumers.
Keep talking about it
The internet is aflutter with stories from the tragedy at the Boston Marathon and the women found in Cleveland. These are awful tragedies but I do believe we need to respect the enormous scale of the Bangladesh losses and keep sharing on Facebook and support the media spotlight to remain on labour issues and worker rights. These are not “sexy” issues like terrorism or as compelling as the horrific story of holding women captive in Cleveland but it has the potential to influence many millions of lives.
The tragedy is on a scale that is really unimaginable and it is mired in complex global economic and politics. It is a story that has the potential to influence changes that could make life better for millions of workers if people like us, who buy the products, keep talking about it and stay aware of who the companies are that are acting and not acting.
One place you can start: go to corporate Facebook pages and have your voice heard – send a message, post on their walls. Some of the companies doing business with Bangladeshi factories include (with links to their Facebook pages):
I think the violence against women movements should align more in response to these issues and name the situation in the garment industry what it is in many cases: corporate violence against women.
There are no easy answers, but millions of people deserve better and consumers do have power and a voice – more of us need to use it.