Anniversary of Rana Plaza tragedy raises questions around supply chain transparency

24 April 2014 | Rebecca Taylor

Rebecca Taylor, business development manager at Responsible Trade WorldwideIn a consumer-driven marketplace, where fashion is fast and the demand for cheap, on-trend clothing is ever-increasing, there is an evident lack of transparency throughout the fashion supply chain.

Today's Fashion Revolution Day marks the year anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh where 1,133 workers lost their lives and the rest of the world was shocked into taking a step towards a greater sense of supply chain awareness.

The tragedy encouraged many to make a human connection with the woman or child who sewed the seams of their clothes and raised the question: “Where do my clothes come from?”

Are we content to keep buying fast fashion at a steal, indifferent to where our clothes come from, or does a tragic event like the one in Bangladesh empower consumers by educating them and encouraging them to challenge retailers?

Many high street brands are facing up to the shocking realities of a high demand supply chain and can no longer be afraid of the truth. By working collaboratively with suppliers and relieving the pressure put on them to deliver high volumes, working conditions and labour rights will improve.

Surprisingly, alongside award-winning ethical brands such as Honest By, Mantis World and JD Williams, some traditional giants like Primark, Tesco and Zara are making a real commitment to responsible fashion. Primark was one of the few retailers to own up to using Rana Plaza for garment production and was praised by NGOs and ethics campaigners for getting a team to Dhaka, producing a credible compensation scheme, and working with unions and agencies to provide immediate food aid.

Beyond the pure devastation of such events, there has been a notable shift in how the fashion industry as a whole regards global supply chains. Retailers and supporting stakeholders are seeking greater transparency around the conditions in which our consumer goods are produced, looking to those who experience the reality of the conditions each day, the worker, as the most valuable resource in the supply chain.

We can no longer be afraid of the truth. True change can only be made by identifying the root cause of the issues and beginning the journey of fixing them. Assessment tools, such as the one developed by Responsible Trade Worldwide, enable organisations to shine a light on their practices and processes.

Responsible Trade Worldwide are focused on encouraging organisations to go beyond compliance and to listen and act on the feedback of their workforce. The objective here is to create an ethical and transparent supply chain which will hopefully become the norm.

So the next time you get dressed, spare a thought for the hands your garments have passed through on their journey to your wardrobe.

Do you know where your clothes have come from? 

☛ Rebecca Taylor is head of research at Responsible Trade Worldwide.

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