On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories, collapsed. Killing at least 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500.
Ten years on, this kind of danger is sadly still present for workers in textile factories around the world. With many textile and garment factories still not meeting the standards required to ensure that disasters like this can’t happen again. As a result, deaths from fire incidents and building collapses in factories are still happening in places like Bangladesh.
Since the Rana Plaza disaster, no fewer than 109 accidents have occurred. Among these, at least 35 were textile factory incidents in which 491 workers were injured and 27 lost their lives.
In The Last 10 Years a Lot Has Changed – But Still Very Little
When the Rana Plaza disaster happened in 2013, I wrote a blog post calling on more people to question where their clothes are made. Since then, it feels like a lot has changed, but still very little.
Amongst the UK brands that were making in the Rana Plaza factory at the time of its collapse, were Primark, Matalan and Bon Marche. Many have still not paid the compensation due to the workers. Shocking.
Fashion Revolution, the campaign founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, has done much to increase transparency within supply chains. Calling on consumers to ask ‘who made my clothes?’. The campaign has millions of supporters around the globe every year, yet according to the Fashion Revolution Global Transparency Index, still more than half of the 250 big brands listed refuse to disclose who their suppliers are.
So why do consumers still keep shopping with these companies?
Manufacturing Locally Makes Transparency Much Easier
My experience of working with smaller, British-made brands is very different. Over the last ten years, Make it British has seen a sharp increase in the number of clothing brands that manufacture in the UK.
They do so, not only because of the flexibility that it offers, and the fact that they can buy smaller quantities, but because of the transparency they get from making locally. And despite what many people think, making clothing in the UK is not necessarily more expensive. Not once you account for shipping, duties and the cost of mass-manufacturing stock that then never sells.
When a brand works with a local factory, and by that I mean one that is no more than a few hours away, it is much easier to visit regularly, and see exactly what conditions the staff are working in. It makes transparency much easier, and sets small brands apart from the big companies that have complex supply chains spread out all over the world.
Customers That Buy From Independent British-Made Brands DO Care Where Their Clothes are Made
We know from working with thousands of independent British-made brands over the last decade, that their customers really do care where their clothes are made. They appreciate the fact that their clothes are made in a country where there are decent working conditions. That has laws to protect workers from being exploited, and where factory buildings don’t collapse, because there is legislation in place that makes sure it doesn’t happen.
Time and time again, these brands go to events and meet up with customers, who say that the reason they love the brand is because it is made in the UK. They may pay a little more for it, but with that comes the reassurance that it has been made in the right way.
Whereas ten years ago it was very hard to find UK manufacturers unless you knew where to look, nowadays you have companies like Mars, a knitwear manufacturer in Leicester, making videos on YouTube encouraging consumers to find out where their clothes are made.
Fast Fashion Brands Have Given UK Manufacturing a Bad Name
Despite the fact that the majority of UK garment factories abide by the rules, there are always a few companies willing to exploit the system in order to make a profit.
BooHoo is one such company that has hit the headlines a few times, because their dodgy sourcing practices, and demand for the lowest possible prices, has forced manufacturers to cut corners in order to work with them.
In 2020 I spoke to Dominique Muller from Labour Behind the Label, a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry, to find out what could be done to improve fast fashion’s involvement in UK garment manufacturing. You can listen to the episode with Labour Behind the Label about BooHoo factories here.
How to Find an Ethical Factory in the UK
If you are looking for garment manufacturers, make sure that you do your due diligence before you start working with any manufacturer, both here or abroad. You should always go and visit any manufacturer that you are thinking of working with, and then continue to pop-in regularly.
Listen to my podcast episode about how to find an ethical factory in the UK and make sure that once you are manufacturing in the UK, you are actually shouting it from the rooftops. Tell your customers who makes your clothes, and the reason that you choose to manufacture with the factories that you have chosen to work with.
If more brands did this, rather than hide this information from their customers, there would be a lot less exploitation in the textile supply chain. And hopefully Rana Plaza won’t happen all over again.
Events Related to the Ten Year Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Disaster
Fashion Revolution Week 2023 – 22nd – 29th April
Find out how you can get involved here.
Photo Exhibition: Rana Plaza and the Resistance, Ten Years On – 26th April
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, are hosting a photo exhibition by Labour Behind the Label, of photos 10 years on from the Rana Plaza disaster. If you’d like to attend the event, which is being held at the Houses of Parliament.
You can register for the event at the Houses of Parliament here.
Remembering Rana Plaza – Lessons for the UK Fashion Industry – 24th April
An evening in the Leicester garment district for community members, workers, unions, and labour rights activists to commemorate the Rana Plaza Disaster, including film showings, speakers, a panel discussion, and supper.
Register for the event in Leicester here.