On the 24th of April 2013, a nine-storey building housing five textile factories collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh. This disaster claimed the lives of 1138 people and injured over 2000, and was symptomatic of the unethical practices and poor working conditions across the entire textile, clothing and footwear industries worldwide. 32 companies have been linked to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Among them are the retailers Auchan, Benetton, Bonmarché, C&A, Camaïeu, Carrefour, Inditex (Zara), Kik, Mango, and Walmart.
Despite the progress made, much work remains to be done. The global garment-making industry still faces several challenges, including low prices and low pay, factories working overcapacity to meet rush orders, and voluntary initiatives falling short of meaningful change.
As a response to the disaster, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was established in May 2013 and renewed in 2018. The Accord is a binding agreement between clothing brands and trade unions and includes various measures, such as thorough inspections, action plans for brands to correct any issues found and provide funds for necessary improvements, and a system for complaints. A new International Accord negotiated between brands and workers’ unions in 2021 continues the work in Bangladesh and extends it to other countries.
Policy makers are also turning a more critical eye to the industry with several laws and regulations in- or planned to come into effect, for example:
- EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive
- EU Commission’s Directive on Green Claims (preventing greenwashing)
- EU Commission’s proposal for a ban on goods made using forced labour
- A new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation in the EU
- The FABRIC Act, the Fashion Act, The Fashion Workers Acts in the United States
- Extended Producer Responsibility
This signals a growing demand for and movement towards greater transparency and accountability in the fashion industry.
Yet, the global fast fashion market continues to grow and is forecasted to increase from $99.23 billion industry to $133.43 in 2026. In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled, and fast fashion is only getting faster, with brands like SheIn adding up to 10,000 individual styles to its app each day. Consumers continue to seek out bargains with the true cost of fashion paid by the people who make the clothes and the planet as a whole.
The immense efforts of unions, organisers, and labour organisations to push for change must be commended. However 10 years is a long time and with the fashion industry still facing numerous challenges related to labour, human rights and environmental abuses, these issues cannot wait another decade for a resolution.
What the industry needs now is a system-wide overhaul that builds upon the legally-binding model of the accords to continue to improve the safety standards in factories but also address other prevalent issues such as low wages, poor working conditions, forced labour and environmental harm. Over the next years we will also begin to see the impact of EU and further international regulation on ensuring fair and transparent practices from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. Brands also have a huge role to play in ensuring that workers' rights and well-being are prioritised through the adoption of sustainable and ethical practices. Finally, we can all exert considerable influence by consuming responsibly and purchasing products that are made ethically. If you're unsure as to who made your clothes or want to know if your favourite brands are taking steps to make the industry fairer, safer and more sustainable,visit: Fashion Revolution
- Public Eye: Rana Plaza - Fabrikeinsturz in Bangladesch, Online article, https://www.publiceye.ch/de/themen/mode/gesundheit-sicherheit-arbeitsplatz/bangladesch/rana-plaza
- Transparency International - The global coalition against corruption, Nine years since the Rana Plaza tragedy: Has fast fashion ironed out their deadly corruption problems?, Kaunain Rahman, 21 April 2022, Online Blog article,
- JustStyle: OPINION: Social audits, modern slavery — Covid shows apparel industry did not learn from Rana Plaza disaster, Professor Muhammad Azizul Islam, 25.04.2022, online article, https://www.just-style.com/comment/opinion-social-audits-modern-slavery-pandemic-shows-apparel-industry-did-not-learn-from-rana-plaza-disaster/
- Stop the Traffik - People shouldn't be bought or sold, 10 years since Rana Plaza: Why factory safety is still pressing problems, Consulting Brief #3, 12.04.2023, online article, https://www.stopthetraffik.org/10-years-since-rana-plaza-factory-safety-still-pressing-problem2/
- Statista: Fast fashion market value forecast worldwide from 2021 to 2026: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1008241/fast-fashion-market-value-forecast-worldwide/