Since childhood I hold allure upon branded, apparel. Although it was a side issue that I never could able to satisfy this prolonged allurement fully, until this festival season. I invested my good number of days to wonder in my town to every nook and corner to visit showrooms of branded menswear. But at last, I decided and ordered through online because of the rates, wanted to save money as much as I could, ordered in intervals, few shirts, then trousers and jeans, and then again, few shirts and ties.
From the designs, texture and feel of those fabrics I understood, I got the same items whatever I would get in company’s showroom. Then also I didn’t leave anything to inspect, as always, I do so, it’s being in my nature, found everything was okay. But at a point I got stuck, to my astonishment when I turned the manufacturing tag which usually get stitched at bottom side of shirts and saying about how to care about the product, most of those were mentioning clearly “Made In Bangladesh”
I couldn’t able to join dots to understand and coming at the conclusion point that what this country’s name doing in the tags of high-priced top brands. The country comes in lower middle-income economy, GNI per capita is US $2620. The country is tagged for greatest population density in among the countries of having population of over 10 million at 1278 per sq. km. More than one fifth of country’s population, around 20.5% living in below poverty line. In tally of Ease of doing business country’s rank is 168th and country’s infrastructure don’t support to welcome foreign companies to invest.
Every industry has two sides of a face. Whenever we hear the word ‘fashion’ our mind starts imagining full of glamour, glamorous world of fTV, models, girls doing catwalk on the floor, gorgeous girls talking about their latest collections, half coloured or grey hair people telling how they have been influenced from the nature or the art and how they put it down in their design and making it into trend. Mind goes to the countries of beauty.
Paris, USA, European countries and travelling around, smiling faces of actor and actress of Hollywood and Bollywood giving photo sessions with wearing of uncommon and non-understandable cloths which we have never seen and we will never see again. And the other side, the dark side of the face of industry, what we can’t see from outside with naked eyes.
In this modern era, Fashion is not a sole property of few ones and not restricted up to in among few houses only. Every person wants to look good and being connected with new trends. And from there it gives birth of the concept and the first time I have been introduced with the phrase “Fast Fashion”. Before this, combination of these two words were nowhere existing in my life. Fashion and that to be fast, what is this actually mean for us, being as a consumer. Availability of fashion, trendy cloths in affordable prices in offline and online stores, wherever from we want. In a report over 120 billion garments are produced in all over the world. In the entire journey of Fast Fashion right from the beginning designing and creating to consumption, the cost factor plays a vital role in it. And that’s why Bangladesh comes in this loop and its name displaying on the tag.
Bangladesh has fitted itself well in the flow chart of processing and providing finished goods of fashion world. The manufacturing garment industry started growing up in late 1970s, when high-cost producers like USA, European countries were moving towards low-cost countries for outsourcing their merchandises. In 1983 Bangladesh had earned only $0.9 billion from exporting of readymade garments (RMG), which was 3.89%. Just after fifteen years, in 1998 it rose up to $5.51 billion, which was 75.67% of the total export earnings of the country. The RMG sector have been growing rapidly and putting strong foothold in country’s foreign exchange earnings and having important role in contribution to GDP. In initial days when RMG industry was mushrooming having only 47 garment manufacturing units in the country. But, by the year 1999 the country was having around 2,900 RMG factories. By the time the country was the sixth largest supplier of apparel in USA and fifth largest supplier of T-shirt in EU market.
Bangladesh in 2011 exported $14.6 billion and became the second largest country in RMG manufacturing industry after China. It increased by 7% compound annual growth rate during the period 2011-19, exported $33.1 billion in 2019. Over the same period its share of global garment exports increased from 4.7 to 6.7 percent. In 2020 Bangladesh’s export value of garments was $38.73 billion. On record around 20 million people work in this sector, however, in deep root we don’t know how many people actually work or involve with this industry directly or indirectly.
Behind the story to take from nowhere to the top of chart in global market and coming in the list of favourite countries for suppling apparel in fashion world, Bangladesh government’s hand is in it, have been providing facilities and incentives time to time. In initial phase of the industry notable steps were taken to groom, like duty free import of fabrics, concessionary rates of interest, cash incentives, warehouse facilities, Export Processing Zone. Motto was to attract foreign capital investments for industrialization and to create employment opportunities and to boost exports. External factors supported also to boost this sector in Bangladesh. Reforms in international textile trade regime particularly in multifibre arrangements and its offshoot quota system for the countries like USA, Canada and EU Bangladesh became the ideal one. Other factors also impacted positively for Bangladesh. One of those prime factors was, the country having low labour cost whereas in other peer group of countries their labour cost was increasing.
Whereas the other side of the face of fast fashion of the fashion world is quite dark, no one wants to look on it, everyone wants to ignore. The industry demands for availability of fast and cheap labours and that creates phenomena of hazardous atmosphere and violation of basics rights for workers in working places. This organised sector works unorganised way very cleanly. Foreign clients manage the order and supply through a series of subcontracts that makes them no liability or no obligation for improvement of working condition or having no blame in case of mis-happenings, completely get free from rules and regulations. Out of 20 million workers in this sector more of them are women, many of them are under age. Supervisors use to create fake ids to hide their actual age. In highly densely populated country large number of populations are living in scarceness. They have no choice other than to accept the work for unliveable wage. On an average a worker in this industry earning $25 to $75 in a month. Very few citizens of overall population able to spend and invest to give fuel to country’s economy. This creation of lower wage industry creating more-low, impoverishing the country. This makes a unique phenomenon to attract developed countries towards Bangladesh to take advantage of the scenario and make the country to play a large role in fast fashion, with horrific condition and at stake of human’s life.
Serial of unpleasant and disastrous accidents in garment factories of Bangladesh are badly exposing unsafe conditions of workplace for workers in front of the world, raising question marks on managements, safety audits and foreign clients’ inspections, how actually they work and seriously concern for safety issues and working conditions. And the most important where is the ethics of this industry. A garment factory was collapsed in Dhaka in 2005, killed 64 people and injured more than 100 others. In 2010 fire of a garment factory took life of 26 persons and injured more than 100 people. On 24th November 2012 Tazreen fashion factory in Ashulia district fire broke out. 117 fatalities and over 200 were injured. One of the deadliest fire accidents of the country. The factory used to make clothing for Walmart, C&A, Disney, Li & Fung, Dickies and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill. On 9th May 2013, 8 people killed in Mirpur textile factory fire owned by Tung Hai group, a large garment exporter. When we talk about garment factories, brands and accidents then we have n numbers of, and when we talk about the actual compensation received by the victims or their families, then we find hardly any number.
Collapsing of Rana Plaza building in Savar was one of the worst and disastrous industrial accident. On 24 April 2013 the Rana Plaza accident killed 1132 people and injured more than 2500 people. Dead bodies were got buried below concretes of collapsed building. Many of those were crushed and couldn’t been identified either. They had been taken out from the mountain of debris of collapsed building in pieces and part by part. Many bodies were found overlapped, buried under loads of other bodies, might be he or she was trying best to survive but couldn’t able. Few of them hugged each other’s for the last time, their dear ones, means they were alive and had sensed that they were dying soon, or might be they saw their dear one dying in their arm. And might be at the time they were giving false hopes of survive to one another.
Around 29 brands were allinged with Rana Plaza with at least one factory, among them are Benetton, Cato Fashions, Joe Fresh, El Corte Ingles, Kik, Bonmarche and many more. Half portion of crushed hands, separated from the bodies of workers holding tags of those brands or lying with them for the last time. One day those hands had stitched those tags on the shirts. Now, for those tags they paid their lives for making enrichment and making availability, our fashioned cloths in affordable price. Expensive cloths of factories covered dead bodies of cheap labours, covering the ugly and forbidding truth of fashion from the world.
Through the facts from zero ground and many interviews of survivors from that day taken by almost all the media houses, it was brutally exposed that how the workers had been forced to enter into the building that morning for work, even after clearly visible of deadly cracks and knowing facts about the condition of the building one day before. And even after it was cautioned to all for the danger of collapsing. Other shops and offices of the building were closed and got vacant. Whereas the fashion factories weren’t closed. later on, the owner accepted, he was in huge pressure to meet out the deadlines to supply the consignments, in an interview from a jail.
After Rana Plaza’s deadly accident, monstrous face of fast fashion was known to all. Thousands and thousands of people came on the street to protest against the trend and involved companies for not taking responsibility for the accident and demanded for compensation for dead and injured workers of those factories. It also had shaken the government and revealing the truth of following regulations, violation of workers safety. The local authorities and the industry came into action, with the help of Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign, took bold steps for safety at work, health issues of workers, labour inspection services, horning skills, training and rehabilitation services to sustain in the long term. Even after taking precautionary and authority steps from then, 35 more accidents happened in textile factories in which 491 were injured and 27 lost their life.
If this is so worst then why the country can’t change its overdependency from the particular sector. This question comes obviously in our mind. For the answer we should look behind to the history of clothing, which is deeply rooted in soil of this country and the present condition of economy. During 16th to 17th century under the Mughal empire Bengal Subah was the midpoint of trading muslin and silk. The Daka, now we known as Dhaka was known for cotton production. The market for cotton and silk were central Asia, Indonesia, Europe, Japan and Dutch. And after winning Battle Of Plassey in 1757 East India Company opened the door for Britishers.
We shouldn’t ignore of the fact that, now RMG sector is accounting 84% of total Bangladesh’s export. Around 12% of country’s population working in this industry, in addition their entire family connected with the income earning from there. The country can’t ignore or effort to slowdown of RMG sector. During pandemic situation of COVIT – 19 and lockdown, RMG export fell down by 17%, losses up to $5.6 billion. Multiple of it now Bangladesh is facing competition from its own peer group of Asian countries. According to data for global exports in 2020 European and US imports indicates that Vietnam likely overtook Bangladesh’s position in RMG industry. This is the industry depends mainly upon timeline for production and cost, the labour cost. The industry groomed and become a giant because of broadly two reasons. One, in initial phase foreign buyers ensured and provided technologies, marketing support, financing vehicle, working capital. And the second reason, Bangladeshi exporters found it low investment industry and marketing was the most difficult task for them and that was the responsibility of foreign buyers. In addition, abundant opportunity of availability of low wages labour and the labours also don’t have any options of earning. Now the demand is from the both side, global demand is to get supply more from low-cost countries and Bangladesh’s demands is to get more orders. So, Bangladeshis can’t afford to slow down the pace of the RMG sector.
In 1980, Zara company cut down the timeline of entire process of fashion industry. Earlier it was taking around 2 years right from the beginning of analysing of availability of market, designing, making yarn and threats, stitching of cloths and to finally availability of products in the market for consumers. Now it came down to number of days. Got a huge response and success in this theory. From there the concept of fast fashion came and changed the dynamics of fashion industry. Then the race started and many big players came up, out of them H&M, and Zara are the biggest in the world.
Fast fashion produces millions of tons wastage in everywhere. In USA alone 18 tons of unwanted cloths in every 3 days. Those used cloths sold or giveaway. In west Africa countries like Ghana and Kenya are having biggest market for used cloths. They sell their Fast Fashion wastage to those countries. Sometimes and many times they pack very old cloths which are damaged, unwearable and unusable. And Africans need to burn those, it’s totally loss for them. The developed countries mainly use these countries as a dumping ground for their fast fashion wastage.
It is found also that in some part of eastern Europe countries like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are having market of used cloths. Sofia the capital city of Bulgaria where poor population, those don’t able to buy wood, coal or other fuels to make heat of their houses, use to burn textile wastage to make warm for sleeping in night in cold days. They take a ton of cloths in around 30 euros. By burning wastage of cloths releases toxic compounds and pollute air and it causes respiratory lungs problem, also causes neurological complications.
Furthermore, toxic dyes and chemicals are used for producing quick and low expensive products. After that these chemicals are released into nearby rivers leads to water pollution. Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment. For making a pair of jeans requires 3781 litres of water. In each year fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water, enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people. The industry also responsible for emission of 10% of overall global carbon, it is more than of all international flights and maritime shipping.
Theory of consumption more and more gave birth of “Fast Fashion” and generating profits more and more to developed countries. We can’t ignore from the truth that it creates opportunity of earning for developing countries like Bangladesh, creates employments. But at what cost, life of people working in the factories of developing countries are not developing, remains the same. A person can’t able to change behaviour of world on consumption. At least we can decide to hold our allurement and to be in our old family traditions to buy only when it’s needed. At least we can avoid or delay to become a reason for releasing toxic compounds in nature, for wasting gallons of water or to become a part of the system of exploitation of poor population of the world and to become a machinery of making profitability for Big brands of developed countries.
For the next time whenever buy cloths must turn the tag to see from where it’s made and try to visualize faces of those people who worked behind the cloth, in the miserable and hazardous factory to adorn your wardrobe.
Data and Informations are collected from various resources. The medias are :
BBC News, Forbes, McKinsey & Company, The World Bank, WSR – Network (Worker-driven Social Responsibility), United Nation : Department Of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, International Labour Organisation, Banglapedia, The Pomelade, Clean Clothes Campaign, Wikipedia, DW Documentary, CBC News, ABC News In-depth, ENDEVR, CBS News, euronews, Al Jazeera English, The New York Times, CAN (Channel News Asia), New York Space, World Trade.