Nearly three weeks after a garment factory building collapse in Bangladesh, police have called off the search for bodies. The death toll from the worst accident in the industry’s history is 1,127.
Under intense pressure to respond to the tragedy, Bangladesh’s government agreed Monday to allow garment workers to unionize without permission from factory owners. The government also announced plans to raise the meager minimum wage for garment workers, currently $38 a month, which is among the lowest pay in the world for garment workers.
Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, told Jansing & Co. she hopes the tragedy will finally lead to better wages and working conditions for garment workers.
“This is really a turning point,” she said. “I think the brands are going to have to offer an ethical option or consumers are going to start looking elsewhere.”
Cline, who went undercover as a garment buyer in 2011 for her book, says American consumers have helped fuel the garment industry boom in Bangladesh, which has a notorious record when it comes to worker safety. “We’re hooked on buying large quantities of clothes for very cheap. We’re quite literally addicted to low price,” she said. “Bangladesh is trying to meet the demand of cheap fashion retailers and they’re buckling under the pressure.”
Monday, Swedish retailing giant H&M, the largest purchaser of Bangladesh garments, and Inditex, owner of the Zara chain, announced they had accepted a legally binding fire and building safety plan that requires retailers to help pay for improvements to factory safety. The agreement was signed earlier by two other companies—PVH, the owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and German retailer Tchibo.
All positive steps in Cline’s view. “The fashion industry has jumped from country to country for the past 20 years. I really think they’re at the end of the road here,” she said. “They need to stay in Bangladesh, they need to make it a model country for working conditions.”