When You Realise You’re Wearing Blood

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If you’ve ever had to work very long hours for minimum wage you might have a tiny inkling of how it feels to work in a Bangladesh sweatshop. A tiny inkling but of course, absolutely no idea.

The Bangladesh factory collapse yesterday made me feel sick. It affected me more then any other news story has done lately simply because I can only imagine the sad lives those workers lived right before in such a horrific way they were killed or maimed by the building they were working in collapsing – leaving over 100 dead and over 1000 injured.

Its raised questions that are always raised every times a preventable tragedy like this happens. Like for example the fire in a factory, also in Bangladesh, that happened back last November and killed 112 workers.
In that case, there were no fire escapes – in this case,  there were cracks in the building which were so worrying the workers in the bank in the same building were told not to go to work that day. The factory workers were sadly still told to go in.

Of course, we all know in this world no two lives are equal, no matter how we pretend they might be. How much money you have and where you are on the social spectrum, the colour of your skin, strongly dictates how much value is placed on your life. While we will all be horrified and saddened at this event it will quickly be forgotten and hastily brushed under the carpet by clothing chains who benefit in large profits from these kind of factories existence.

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To put it into perspective, Tesco, a company who source their cheap clothing from these kinds of factories make on average a 3 billion a year profit, yet the makers of the clothing only get enough to barely subsist on, keeping them living in grinding poverty, working long hours in awful conditions.
Walmart, Sears, Primark – you name it. No point denying what is glaringly obvious – its the most disgusting face of capitalism.

Having spent six months recently working in a clothing chain for low wages (comparatively speaking low wages for the city I was living in), and working 10 hour shifts, I feel very passionately about this inequality. Clothing chains make vast profits off treating a vast amount of people like crap, and providing their workers with the bare minimum in return. I can only imagine that if a first world worker is being given the bare minimum in wages, to do a vital role (the selling) and still being made to pay 50% on the clothes they must wear while they do so,  AND  selling the clothes at a ridiculously high price that is difficult for the worker to afford still – the workers lives in the likes of Bangladesh will hardly be a walk in the park.

As far as I can see capitalist clothing chains have little or no moral or social conscience for their workers. They will provide the minimum only when shamed, in the countries where they could not get away with providing any less – but in the shadows and in the countries where no one cares – they’re happy to turn a blind eye to modern day slavery, unsafe buildings and even deaths.

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Wages as low as $38.50 a month are not okay anywhere in the world. These workers, mainly young women, will never be able to escape their life sentence and perhaps its easy for us to distance ourselves from this reality. When we walk into Primark, we aren’t shown photos of the conditions the clothes were made in – nor forced to listen to interviews with the workers or enter the cramped, hot sweatshops in which the clothes were made.

Change needs to happen on this and it can’t happen if we continue to feed it. Edward Hertzman, a textiles broker based in New York, said: “It is going to take much more than retailers issuing press releases or paying compensation to victims.  They’re going to have to stop beating up the factories and start paying higher prices. That will allow the factories to raise wages and standards.”

If they raise the prices for workers, two things would happen, either these companies could take less of the profit or we could pay more. That would make alot of sense – for more people in factories in Bangladesh to be healthy and happy, and more people in Western countries to be able to afford enough clothes to wear, and for the big companies to get just a tiny bit less – after all what do they need with 3 billion profit?

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I’m sure for the families of the mothers, daughters and sisters who were lost in this tragedy there will never be answer that makes sense.

Some photos from Reuters of the building collapse: http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTXYY1D

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