Why Cheap Fashion Remains Deadly

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Author: Jan Tomes | Published: April 24, 2017 

There is nothing as human as the act of dressing up. However, there is little that is humane about the industries that surround the act.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, which killed 1,129 garment factory workers, has been perhaps the strongest manifestation of the moral decadence of the system that spits out cheap, low-quality clothes produced under very few regulations in third-world countries. Has anything changed in the past four years?

Whose responsibility?

Despite newly implemented sustainability and social responsibility programs by “fast fashion” brands such as the Swedish clothing giant H&M, which recognizes Germany as its biggest European market, the industry looks very much the same it did four years ago.

According to a recent study by Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly published by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, 3,425 inspections have taken place since October 2015 in Bangladesh, for example – but only eight factories passed them.

“There are two reasons why so few factories are successfully being fixed. First, the most essential upgrades to make factories safer, such as electrical improvements and moving to purpose-built facilities, are expensive,” says the research, estimating the average cost of remediation to $250,000 – $350,000 (230,000 – 322,000 euros) per factory. The second reason, according to the research, is that brands see it as the suppliers’ responsibility to pay for these expensive factory repairs.

Similar trends in the EU

Low wages, hazardous conditions, poor legislation, a lack of transparency in production lines and the brands’ denied responsibility are not only characteristic for the industry in Bangladesh, however.

Jost Franko’s photo series “Cotton Black, Cotton Blue” (picture gallery above) shows how the failures of the garment industry are systematic. In 2015 and 2016, Franko visited Bangladesh and Burkina Faso but also Romania, and his experience was similar in all countries. “Employees in the garment sector are one of the lowest paid workers in the European Union. Their wages are often lower than in factories in China,” he told DW.

Chains such as Primark, Zara, or H&M are not the only ones to outsource their production. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” about 20 percent of all goods by Prada, the leading Italian luxury brand, are made in China, and several lines by Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other expensive names are produced in Cambodia and Romania, among others.

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