Edinburgh With the death count from the Bangladesh factory collapse now over 800, many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are calling for “fair-trade standards or labeling” for clothing produced around the world. The argument for such standards and labeling would be to communicate directly to the potential consumer that there were safe and decent labor standards in the production of the clothes along with other potential criteria. Interestingly, German manufacturers have also led the call for a willingness to invest in upgrading factory production in Bangladesh directly, which Walmart, Gap and others have resisted.
The so-called Sustainable Apparel Coalition directed by these firms along with other giant buyers like J.C. Penney, Target, and others predictably are trying to both not make the investment and sidetrack the calls for reform by proposing self-certification systems, if anything. They are talking about perhaps making public an internal index that they are now using in some circumstances. Scott Nova, head of the Workers Rights Consortium was quoted in the International Herald Tribune saying correctly that self-regulation had already been proven ineffective. He might have added that the proof is now “in blood.”
In an amazing quote from a Georgetown University professor, Neeru Paharia, about the way that both the companies and many consumers were hiding behind the complexity of the supply chain as an excuse to avoid demanding more company accountability, she said,
“Most people probably would not hire a child, lock them in the basement, and have them make their clothes, but this system is so abstracted.”
It takes your breath away!
Surveys indicate though that consumers both want to know where their clothes are coming from and are willing to pay a premium for the facts and the security involved in the information.
The Better Works program administered not by the industry but by a international publicly funded partnership of unions and businesses still seems the way to go, but demanding the information from sellers immediately is what has to be done.