Gaining heat from last year’s craze, patterns are hotter than ever this year, from brightly-angled garments to romantic floral fashions, but one apparel pattern is literally scorching: a blaze of fires are popping up in ready-made garment (RMG) factories across the world’s fastest-growing mega-city, Dhaka. While watching the local news last week, I listened to a segment on an urban slum fire in the Hazaribagh area that left at least 11 people dead. Those killed were all children and women, some working as garment factory workers; this particular fire’s cause was unknown, but it quickly spread among the shantytown. Fatal flames continue to spread to the slum dwellers’ workplaces at factories like That’s It Sportswear with even higher death tolls, some dying from the fire itself and others jumping from upper floors of the building. News reports fired across the TV screen this weekend covering another garment factory fire on the outskirts of Dhaka at the Tazreen Fashions factory where over 100 people died.
Many factors are considered as reasons why such factory fires start, but reasons for why peoples’ lives end include locked doors and blocked exits. Attention to such negligence is stoked by news stations and tended by workers’ rights groups like the Global Union for Garment Workers, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN).Together, they form a coalition with a sure-fire way—or at least a more precautionary way—to contain RMG factory-fires’ frequency.
This season’s inferno of patterns that lit up the runways could not be contained, as the popular aesthetic sprinkled down like ashes onto the high street and burned like embers into retailers’ assortments. One such retailer, the Gap, may be on-trend with its take on patterns and prints, but the brand should be scolded for its refusal to sign onto the coalition’s historic fire safety program. Instead of joining the brigade of brands like PVH Corp. and Tchibo, the Gap’s take is to self-regulate. Presently, the Gap has the right to reject the fire safety program and create its own, but we as consumers have the right to reject the Gap for its lack of transparency. A colleague of mine from India; he heads-up Design and is familiar with garment production; reminded me that retailers shouldn’t bear all of the blame for the RMG sectors’ faults, like lax worker safety conditions; I agree. Similar to how groups like the Global Union, CCC, ILRF, WRC, and MSN have joined forces to set a hose to the host of incendiary issues, governments, factory owners, and retailers should equally own their shares in order to solve the industry’s problems.
With the aforementioned squad of acronyms’ monumental collaboration with stakeholders, the many players are doing their part; now GAP has to fill the gap and do theirs. In 2010, the retailer went from Blue to Green with its eco-friendly recycled denim initiative to help communities in need. Almost engulfed by financial woes in 2011, the Gap recently came out of its own smoke with corporate decisions regarding product development and retail operations. Part of its 2012 strategy was a new focus on Asia with store openings in China and shipping services to countries like Bangladesh. Why not go green with a people-friendly 2013 and help the South Asian community in need with better working conditions? As someone who is trying to shop with a conscience, this former Long-and-Lean-jean-customer will have to find her denim-fit-of-choice elsewhere; this will be my own “self-approach” until GAP douses its self-regulatory approach to worker safety.
Feel the need to read more?