“Where did you get those jeans?”
Wednesday 6 November 2013, 2.52am | VIDEO NOW ONLINEAdd to Calendar >
The V&A recently acquired a new item for its collection: a pair of Primark jeans very likely to have been made in the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh which collapsed in April, killing over a thousand garment workers. A further 2,500 were left injured, many severely disabled. Such an event is hardly unique. Just this month at least nine people were killed in a fire at a clothing factory near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. There are factories like this all over the developing world, with notoriously poor safety standards and millions of people working long hours in appalling conditions for a pittance of a wage.
Who is to blame? Is it you and me – the Western shoppers who buy the cheap t-shirts and jeans, or the international brands which sell them? Is it the factory owners who put up the shoddy buildings in the first place and enforce the notorious working practices? Or the governments which refuse to heed the trade unions, leaving the workers powerless to change their lot?
Is the problem really so hard to fix? Campaigners say that the fact that wages are so low makes the cost of fixing the problem low too. In fact it would cost a mere 15p more on the labour cost of each pair of jeans to give workers a fair deal. Most of us would happily pay that tiny bit extra amount so what’s stopping it from happening?
On Nov 6th Intelligence Squared and the V&A brought together an expert panel to discuss these questions.
Freelance journalist covering South Asia for The Observer and specialising in human rights investigations. He has recently won the Anti-Slavery Day media award for best investigative piece on forced labour for reporting on the link between the Assam tea industry and child trafficking
Policy Director at IndustriALL Global Union, in charge of global campaigns on sustainable industrial policy, living wages and precarious work. She is currently involved with implementing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, signed between IndustriALL and 90 global garment brand companies
One of the UK’s foremost experts on ethical sourcing and supply chains and a consultant to the Ethical Fashion Forum. Co-founder and director of award-winning ethical menswear brand Arthur & Henry
Executive Director of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs. ETI helps its members – which include UK and European high street fashion brands and retailers – to tackle the challenges of trading ethically within complex global supply chains
Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital (V&A)