If Looks Could Kill: Clothing Brands Dodge Responsibility in Role of Bangladeshi Factory Collapse

As people around the world pick out the perfect outfit to celebrate the end of 2013 and the potential of 2014, most of them still have little idea about where or how their wear was made. Even after the factory collapse at Rana Plaza killed 1,100 people in April — the deadliest disaster in garment industry history — some companies who had business with the Bangladeshi manufacturers refuse to accept blame or contribute to efforts for change. These facts are intertwined.

According to a New York Times report:

[Eight] months later, the question is what responsibility [Spanish clothing company] Mango and other brands should bear towards the victims of Rana Plaza, a disaster that exposed the murkiness and lack of accountability in the global supply chain for clothes. Under intense international pressure, four brands agreed last week to help finance a landmark $40 million compensation fund for the victims.

But many other brands, including Mango, have so far refused to contribute to the fund. Mango argues that it is not responsible because it had not "formalized a commercial relationship" with Phantom Tac.

Phantom Tac was just one of many operations in the building that collapsed, and surviving workers say that even though the relationship may not have been finalized, people in the factory were already working on Mango clothes. Mango had sent sent buyers to the factory in the early part of 2013, workers say, to check on safety conditions. Labor activists searching the rubble of the fallen factory claim to have found order forms from Mango to Phantom Tac and a shipment of fabric had arrived weeks before the collapse, all according to the piece in the Times.

Four retailers have so far agreed to contribute to a fund designated for the Rena Plaza victims — Bonmarché, El Corte Inglés, Loblaw and Primark — and many others have signed on to safety pacts designed to up standards of production in Bangladesh. Although, the impact of the two disparate pacts is still in debate.

The pressures to produce — and to do so quickly — is one of the main factors that kept Rena Plaza open despite knowledge of its structural problems. The very day before it collapsed, cracks were noticed in the third floor. After making an inspection, an engineer recommended that the factory extend a temporary closure until the issues could be repaired. However, the recommendation was ignored among the importance of pressing deadlines. The dismissal was tragically fatal, but one that should be correctable — if enough people know about the garments they buy and the garment companies are forced to respond to a knowing consumer base. One that refuses to stand for clothes fashioned in unsafe, substandard conditions, no matter how fashionable.


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Brandon Perkins
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