Advocating for Safer Workplaces

On April 24th 2013 the collapse of theRana Plaza
Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh meant that hundreds of families have been left unable to sustain themselves. The Plaza, which contained about 3000 workers lost a total (as of May 22, 2013) of 1,127 lives- each one of these numbers represents a lost relationship with a Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Aunt, Uncle, Cousin and Friend.

What does this mean to you?

For me it was wondering how to support a dear friend of mine. A friend who was feeling horrified by the hundreds of lost lives and the lack of compassion and concern expressed by her peers. It was the feeling that people did not care about a place that she calls her home.

Although many international clothing brands have made the effort to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a contract which mandates safer building practices (for example, including fire exits and utilizing high quality construction materials), many North American Brands did not. These brands include Gap, Walmart, Macy’s, Sears, JC Penny, The North Face, Target, Kohl’s, Made in the Shade, Osh Kosh, Nordstrom, American Eagle, The Childrens Place, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Footlocker.

When I reflect on this, it is easy for me to see where my friend is coming from. It is scary for me to think about the amount of people who shop at these stores- and the fact that this population of shoppers includes myself, my friends and family members. The money that we spend at these stores may at face value appear as baby clothes for a new nephew or a brightly coloured shirt for a night out with friends. But beyond face value, this money represents a vote of confidence for these brands and their practices. These practices include devaluing specific populations including the 1, 127 individuals who were killed. These practices include “forgetting” to put fire exits on buildings and paying employees as little as $38 a month. Is this considerate? Does this show that people care? In my opinion: no. It shows that people, like me, are forgetting that these materials were made by a person with a story and that their story and their life as just as valuable as our own.

So what can we do to address this?

One of the main things is refraining from shopping at stores who have not signed onto the Accord. Another thing would be supporting the stores that advocate for safe work places and respectful conditions. Companies like H&M, PVH Corporation (who owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen, IZOD, ARROW and Bass), Loblaws and Abercrombie and Fitch (I’m just as surprised as you are) have signed the Accord.

Another thing that would help, in my opinion, is paying attention to the discourse of our actions. The reason I am saying this is because it was a group of individuals who made this decision and it is easy to get lost in the perception of a “company”- where does the accountability go? If these individuals would have put themselves or a loved one into the shoes of one of the Bangladeshi employee’s, I doubt that they would have made the same decision. I personally think that if we all make an extra effort to think about how we are affecting people, this will encourage culture of conscientiousness, which will hopefully make tragedies like this less likely to occur.