The following is an excerpt of Stephanie Woollards book ‘From a tin shed to the United Nations‘
The Status Quo
Rampant mistreatment of employees and widespread corruption has become the expected norm in developing countries, especially when acting as an outsourced manual labour force. More than 40 million people work in the garment industry worldwide and they amount to the lowest paid works in the world, with as many as 85 per cent of them being women.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, in which 1,136 people were killed and a further 2,500 were injured, is a prime example. The factory, which made products for a number of international brands, was not approved as part of the building's occupancy plans and the upper floors were added without permits, none of which could withstand the weight and vibrations of the heavy textiles machinery.
Despite cracks in the structure and an evacuation the day before, workers in the factory were threatened to have a month's pay withheld if they did not attend work on the day of the collapse.
The corporate greed, coupled with pressure from an international supply chain unconcerned with the impact of their business practices, undoubtedly led to the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
The way forward
Yet, there are responsible alternatives to the cheaply made sweat shop products we can buy so readily and people are becoming increasingly aware that their purchasing decisions can affect the lives of people around the world.
Younger generations, led by millennials, want to work for companies that retain an ethical standpoint in their processes and purpose and 84 per cent would choose ethically sourced products if the alternative is available.
The demand for products free of exploitation is rising rapidly, as seen through Oxfam’s ‘Behind The Brand’ business sustainability rankings released in 2016. It is now in a corporation’s best interest to conduct Fair Trade practices, as people become educated on the matter and have the financial means to make better choices, even if those choices come at a slightly higher cost.
We in the West have the time, interest, money and education to approach business in a more conscientious way and we understand more and more the negative impacts of globalisation to the world’s poorest people.
If we can bring to light these stories of suffering – make human the intangible process of buying cheap clothes – then the business incentives will grow as the demand for fairer practices grows.
About Stephanie Woollard:
Stephanie Woollard is an award-winning Australian social entrepreneur and speaker who believes that a far more tolerant and compassionate world is achievable in our lifetime if we each take steps to make a difference. Stephanie is also the author of ‘From a tin shed to the United Nations’. She has founded several enterprises with social impact: the aid organisation Seven Women, the Kathmandu Cooking School and the tour company Hands on Development. To find out more information visit www.sevenwomen.org and www.handsondevelopment.com.au.