On Rana Plaza, Living Wages, a Broken Industry – and How to Fix It
Almost two years ago, a building collapsed - and we are still in shock. More, we (!) still have a bad conscience (which we try to suspend while shopping). And we do what we always do in such a situation: we find culprits.
We blamed companies who sourced from Rana Plaza.
Yet, the building also hosted a bank, offices, and shops - it looked safe. On April 23, it showed cracks and was evacuated. On the next day, two inspectors declared it as safe (bribed by Mr. Sohel Rana, the owner of the building), but only the garment workers went back, while the rest remained closed. They were threatened to lose a month’s salary. Instead, they lost their lives, loved ones, or the ability to work again and earn their livelihood.
We should blame the low wages which leave no room for choice.
On that subject, we have already blamed the fast fashion brands which offer cheap fashion for their alleged greed, who in turn blamed their own customers and their - equally alleged - unwillingness to pay more. Yet, all surveys and statistics demonstrate that most consumers would in fact be willing to pay an adequate markup for fair production conditions – we are talking about a few cents per piece, after all.
But while it may be easy to choose FairTrade sugar over conventional one (it is only slightly more expensive, can be found in the same stores and tastes at least as sweet) – fashion is a bit more complex. Here, consumers have but a few options all of which would bring about limitations in convenience, choice, style, and/or budget.
So they may be ready to pay more for fair production, but not willing (or able!) to pay the quite substantial price difference charged by current FairTrade brands (which is not solely due to the treatment of workers but mainly to their lacking of the fast fashion brands’ economies of scale and efficiency). In addition, all options would reduce the total amount of garments sold, which would inarguably worsen the situation for the garment workers.
THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN
So, even though the ones who would in the end bear the additional costs of higher wages (the consumers) would be willing to do so, the market cannot regulate itself to create this mutually desired outcome. And where market cannot regulate itself, the underlying system is dysfunctional – the fashion industry is broken.