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Bangladesh tragedy – will people now stop to think where their clothes are made?

There is a reason why products made in Britain are often more expensive – safe working conditions for one.


The factory that collapsed in Bangladesh was making clothes for Primark

The terrible news about the garment factory in Bangladesh collapsing, killing hundreds of workers inside, has truly saddened me. But having traveled all over the world visiting manufacturers, the tragedy hasn’t really surprised me – it was an accident waiting to happen. The demand for cheap fashion that is prevalent in the UK, and let’s face it Primark was one of the factories customers so those clothes were destined for here, has meant that cutting corners is inevitable. And when a factory is so far away, it is more likely to be the case of  ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Bangladesh has been the source of some of the cheapest clothing for a while. In the last 30 years the poverty stricken country has seen the number of people employed in garment manufacturing rise from practically nothing, to over 4 million. The industry now turns over £20bn a year and accounts for 80% of the countries exports.

This huge rise in demand has seen factories like the one that collapsed in Dhaka being thrown up quickly in order to meet the demand for cheap clothing from the West. According to an article on the BBC website, 50% of garment factories in Bangladesh are located on premises which are not safe. That is just shocking.

A couple of years ago I ran a survey on this website to ask people if they actually looked to see where a garment was made before they bought it, only 33% said that they did. If I had asked a more un-biased section of the population, i.e. those not reading a blog about British-made products, then the results would likely have been much lower. The truth is that when it comes to buying products these days, most people only look at the price, and never stop to consider why something is so cheap. They often say that they don’t buy products made in Britain because they are too expensive, but there are many reasons why this is often the case, and safe working conditions is one of them.

If there is one positive thing that comes of the terrible disaster in Bangladesh this week, maybe it now will cause people to stop and question the true value of cheap clothing made abroad.



  1. naseem brunswick on April 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

    what awful news so sad,shame on primark.

  2. Julie Franklin on April 26, 2013 at 10:29 am

    access to cheap clothing can never be worth women and children working in such apalling conditions and we must all beome more aware of what we are buying and the human cost .
    on the flip side I vowed I would not buy clothing manufactured out side the Uk this year .
    Having done much research I have found this is almost impossible .Whilst I am willing to pay more for my clothing I find that my goals and my budget do not mix ,

    • on April 26, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Hi Julie
      Quite often clothes made in Britain are more expensive because it is the high-end manufacturers that were able to ride out the downturn.
      Those that were the ones that were supplying the high street retailers, such as M&S, were the first to go when all of the business was taken abroad.
      It is now a bit of a chicken and egg situation -if more people demanded British-made clothes from the retailers then they would supply more, the factories would be busier, and costs would reduce.
      I always think that any item that someone buys that is made in Britain helps contribute in some way towards helping British manufacturing grow again.

    • Jim on May 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      “access to cheap clothing can never be worth women and children working in such apalling conditions ” Agreed. But what about the poor fellas? Those conditions are no suitable for any person.

  3. Yvonne Dhanoon on April 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I’d like to buy British made stuff but, quite honestly, the high end of the market tends to be for skinny people. I’m left trying to decide which trash from places like Evans I can bear to be seen in.

    • on April 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      There is still British-made product available for the less skinny end of the market – David Nieper for example.
      I would love to hear about more as I’m sure it’s out there

  4. john newbold on April 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I’m no great lover of primark but they didn’t own the factory and they didnt build the building. They bought some clothes from a factory who leased the premises from a company. The fault lies with the developer and local government who built and allowed this dangerous building to remain in use even after cracks had been discovered. Also with the factory management who ignored the warnings. It wasn’t really in primarks’ control, they weren’t the factories only customer so why is the blame being dropped on their doorstep. Typical UK witch hunt and band wagon jumping mentality

    • john newbold on April 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Just to be clear, I totally agree that more of our manufacturing should be done in the U.K.. It makes sense on many levels. I just don’t think you can blame a customer for the build quality of a suppliers premises.

      • on April 26, 2013 at 2:08 pm

        Hi John
        I wasn’t claiming that Primark were directly to blame, however, in order to get a T-shirt to market at £2.50 something in the supply chain has to be compromised. When I worked for another large high st retailer they had certain standards that they expected a factory to meet, and this involved regular inspections of the facilities to check for safety etc. That cost money and was a cost that was inevitably passed on to the consumer. Had this retailer decided to cut the cost of regular factory inspections then they could no doubt have been able to have competed with Primark on price.
        I’m also sure that the reason this factory was also allowed to stay open despite the dangerous cracks, was because they were under pressure to complete orders, knowing that if they didn’t deliver on time the retailer would hit them with late delivery penalties.
        It all comes down to money at the end of the day. Very sad indeed.

        • john newbold on April 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm

          The cracks opened up the day to before the collapse to 25mm. When the building collapsed it was found to be seriously lacking reinforcement in the concrete. It was basically a sand castle. It is indeed sad. The fault still lies with the developer. I have seen so many people use this as a weapon against Primark today. Fair enough to discredit primarks exploitation of cheap labour but I think this is the wrong stick to beat them with. This tragedy was caused by the developers, the building control/licensing and their enforcement arm.

          • john newbold on April 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm

            With regard to the penalties there are higher authorities than the factory management who were aware of the problem – they had the power to enforce the closure of the building and didnt take it. The problem was discovered in time but not acted upon. That responsibility ultimately lies with the authority, the root of the problem lies with the devloper. Not really Primark.

  5. TRIXIE BRADLEY on April 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Before we all start pointing fingers at anyone – let us all thank god that some people have been saved, and pray for everyone…
    That said, we all also have to look at our clothes in our wardrobes, our financial budgets and constraints and try to make the best decisions we can.
    It is not always easy to buy just British goods all the time – but we can all try to do our bit when we can – it would be a perfect place if we all bought ‘in-house’, we all know that…
    Do the best we can, when we can to buy British as often as we can – as we all know it will all help our British economy…

  6. ashash on April 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    It’s easy to point fingers. In no way primark can be blamed. This industry supports women and help economy to sustain to certain level. Or else poverty will be worse! It’s unfortunate that this has happened and the government should take steps to check buildings and take steps to action strict rules. Orders has to be placed on time with correct leadtimes . Penalties on delays has to be relaxed. Cancellation on delays has to be looked at! business should be running on partnership and both parties should participate in the welfare of the workers!

  7. Camila on April 30, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Kate,

    Hope you don’t mind this long comment – I posted this on my Facebook business page the days after the collapse:

    “Before I took the plunge and went into to business for myself I was a freelance product designer. I designed stuff and a big company got this stuff made in factories around the world. Way in the back of my mind I could never feel completely ok with this, simply because I didn’t know the conditions under which my designs were being made.

    The Potteries (the historic birthplace of world-renowned British fine china) once created an enormous amount of wealth but also an enormous amount of suffering. During the Industrial Revolution countless factory workers in the UK died (young) of “potters rot”, basically lung cancer, and other diseases because of poor working conditions. When I say “poor”, I mean horrific and inhumane. Eventually workers rights came in, society changed, now we have health and safety laws. But there are many parts of the world that don’t.

    This is one of reasons I dropped the whole designer-for-hire thing. When you meet people at parties it’s nice to tell them you work for a company whose name they recognize. But I was always asking myself “how ironic and sad it is, that this pretty/happy/cute object may have been fabricated in an exploitative/harmful/unhappy place?”

    A huge building that housed a garment factory and a bank collapsed in Bangladesh yesterday killing more than 200 people. A huge crack was forming days before the tragedy. Everybody could see it. The people working for the bank complained about the crack. They were asked to not go into work until professionals came in to assess the stability of the building. The people working at the garment factory were forced to go to work. They have no trade unions. They risked losing their jobs if they did not show up. Now many of them are dead.

    Some argue that the countless people working at factories in developing and emerging markets, at least have jobs. And how else will we get the cheap clothes, homewares and food we are used to?

    There is no easy, simple or fast solution. But when I was working as a freelancer I remember looking at the miniscule royalty percentage I was being given. It was clear in my contract that everything was in THEIR favor and not in mine. I remember thinking: what if they SHARED more? What if they CARED more? I wouldn’t have felt so exploited and I would have made more money.

    I’m glad I branched out on my own in the end. There is much uncertainty, and manufacturing in the UK is no joke. It’s really hard. But I DO know the entire repercussions of my production line, from start to finish. And it’s positive. I’m grateful for that.”

    Kate, I just read your bio and I see many parallels with myself. Would love to have a cup of tea with you on day.

  8. @camilla @newbold

    There is something we could do, if any of us happen to be an EU commissioner writing tariff rules! Simply charge a lower tariff for countries with some kind of pension system (so less need to have so many children) girls’ schools (also leading to less children) and other national insurance schemes, democracy, and fair legal systems alongside. Suddenly, I think, Bangladesh would change,

  9. Woody on May 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    The scenes from Dhaka were truly deplorable and whoever is to blame there should be held to account. However, the bigger picture is still that the average High Street consumer wants cheap products (not just clothes) and there’s no end of retail stores wanting to supply that demand. How they manage it and ensure that workers are treated with respect is up to them, but we should remember this incident and learn from it.

    I am an M&S buyer and I am also very disappointed that most of their clothing is now manufactured abroad – Vietnam, Combodia, China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and even Madagascar of all places. The only items bought from them in recent years that was made in Britain was my leather belts. However, I don’t want to see M&S go into liquidation and their clothing suits my style, I don’t want “designer” garb at my age, but I would prefer it if M&S offered more, if not ALL, products source in this country.

    Pretty much every retailer has suffered a loss of sales these past five years and you have to ask when you lose another customer, why? They’ll probably say they lost their job making a wiring component that was sold to an electrical switch maker whose products went in a British made sewing machine that was bought by a clothing manufacturer who used to work for that same retail store. In other words, it’s karma (there, I’ve even borrowed and Indian word) – what goes around comes around.

    If we had more products made here it would give more British workers jobs to do, relieve the benefits system, reduce our balance of payments, and maybe in time reduce taxes, meaning everyone is better off and able to spend more money buying British made clothes again. If you had a brother in law that was a plumber living locally and you had a broken tap, unless you hated his guts, you wouldn’t call in a stranger to fix your tap, would you? Yet we’re quite happy to give all of our work away to foreign countries (and in many cases give those countries foreign aid to build shoddy premises for their workers to work in) and put our own people on benefit. Does that not sound like financial suicide?

    Convince the retailers to buy only from British manufacturers and convince the Government to support those companies involved in manufacturing with incentives to employ more British staff then convince those workers to share their fortunes with other British workers by buying the products that they manufacture. Where to start is the big question, but Government and the Chancellor might be a good rallying point.

  10. Mark on May 15, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Being a former employee of Net-A-Porter.com for 4 years , working in IT for 12 and seeing just how easy it is to sell online to the public I have been thinking about starting my own online “fully British” fashion label for some time. Fully designed,
    manufactured and serviced and delivered apparel from the UK.

    Do you realise how much I hate going into a store where they advertise and claim to be a British label. Then when you see the label inside the garment.. “Made in Mexico or Made in China, India etc etc. Then you ask a customer service adviser “Excuse me was this label with all this marketing surrounding it really made in the UK?” and they say those famous words.. “No, BUT IT WAS DESIGNED IN THE UK” Grrr I hate this!!

    I have many ideas and some capital to start this project, so anyone who has a real passion for this and would be interested to be involved please feel free to email me!

    • KARL on May 16, 2013 at 10:47 am



      I share your views, see my post today. I would be interested in learning more about your vision for an online store selling only UK manufactured product as I have been think along similar lines for sometime.


    • Camila on June 1, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Helllo Mark,

      Imagine how it makes ME feel being a designer who is truly manufacturing in the UK, with all the difficulties that entails. It boils my blood that these big labels can get away with enormous lies. I was going to say “misleading”, but that is too soft of a word, as they know exactly what they are doing.

      I am selling my products online and yes there is great potential. I wouldn’t say it’s easy though. I would love to talk to both you and Karl to compare notes and join forces. Will email you now. I’m grateful for this wonderful blog that is bringing like-minded people together 🙂

    • Camila on June 1, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Hey Mark, I can’t email you, as your name on this thread is not click-able. Do come back and drop me your email so that we can get in touch. You can email me at hello@camilaprada.com 🙂

  11. KARL on May 16, 2013 at 10:39 am

    The appalling tragedy which took the lives of over 1100 people in the Dhaka clothing factory leaving family families without parents, breadwinners and even their children should serve as a wake up call to all of us in this country.

    The real blame lies squarely with the Bangladeshi authorities for failing to enact and enforce adequate building control standards and factory owners driven to disregard obvious risks to meet order deadlines and/or sheer greed. However, at the same time we need to bin the myth that UK shoppers buying cheap clothing produced in unsafe and harsh conditions often by children is somehow going to help poor developing countries achieve a better standard of living for their populations. All the evidence suggests that the profits from Bangladesh’s £20 billion annual clothing exports will go to a tiny privileged minority of Bangladeshi’s and some western retail chains. The majority of Bangladeshis will continue to live hard, brutal and, often, short, lives by Western standards.

    Other than overseas produced Fairtrade certified clothing, I will only buy clothing and other products made in the UK, although over the last 20 years that has become a major challenge. Some people will regard this approach as ‘protectionism’. I am all for protectionism now because we live in a country that over the last 30 years has been comprehensively de-industrialised by globalisation with no apparent overall benefits to the majority of people in this country. True we can buy loads of cheap clothing and throw 300,000 tons of it into landfill every year. Conversly we now have a completely unsustainable level of unemployment and a welfare bill out of control which is paid for by our taxes, the worst balance of payments deficit ever and a generation of young people in all probability denied the chance of ever having real jobs with real skills.

    For these and many other reasons I fully support the vision of David Cameron and Vince Cable for the ‘reindustrialisation of the UK although we truly have a mountain to climb.

    Well done to Make it British for continuing to raise these crucially important issues.

    • Camila on June 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Well said Karl!

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