‘In a world in which a lot is said about rights, how often is human dignity actually trampled upon! In a world in which so much is said about rights, it seems that the only thing that has any rights is money. Dear brothers and sisters, we are living in a world where money commands. We are living in a world, in a culture where the fixation on money holds sway.’
This week the ABC screened the Four Corners documentary Fashion Victims. Reporter Sarah Ferguson investigated the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that led to the death of over a thousand people, the maiming of many others and the link to clothing we all buy from major retailers in Australia.
According to George Miller, from the US Congress, “The public really has to understand. Do they really want to continue to- buy clothing and garments that really does have blood on its labels?”
The reason that this industry has flourished in Bangladesh, where rural poverty forces young women into sweat shops for subsistence wages and substandard working condition is, according to Holger Fischer because people or companies don’t care, the only thing they care about is “price, price, price, price, price and profit.”
A few days later I was walking around a major retailer reflecting on this program while walking among the bewildering array of clothing on offer at bargain prices. I was wondering how can we, as consumers, make decisions about what is a fair price for the goods we consume. How can we show that we do care!
As the Four Corners program revealed we cannot rely on garment labels to reveal where and under what conditions they are produced. As the major retailers themselves are very reluctant to disclose anything about the sourcing of their goods, it is very difficult for us as consumers to make such ethical decisions about what we purchase.
So then what action can we take?
We are all familiar with and hopefully actively support the International Fairtrade movement which tries to achieve equity for primary producers on the world market. We can make active and informed decisions about the coffee or chocolate we buy.
Fairtrade cooperatives like the Fero Cooperative in the remote Yirgalem region of Ethiopia, ensures that local coffee farmers are paid a fair price for their product and engage with producers and suppliers. The result is improved conditions for local people with better access to education and electricity. There are also Fairtrade movements towards the production of cotton, flowers, honey, sports balls and gold to name a few. Fairtrade certification does help us ask the right questions when we choose some of the products we buy.
According to Oxfam Australia there isn’t yet an international certification for labour standards in the garment manufacturing and retail industry. But there are active steps we can all take by supporting ethical manufacturing. Contacting retailers and ask them how they monitor the labour rights of their suppliers. Ask them how they work with suppliers and manufacturers to ensure workers rights are respected. Raise the issues of ethical clothing in your workplace or local community. Keep ourselves informed. There are many on-line resources concerning fair fashion and ethical consumerism.
The Ethical Clothing Australia organisation which, with the support of the Federal government, unions, peak bodies and businesses, commits “to taking practical steps to keep their Australian-based supply chains transparent and ensure that they and any sub-contractors are compliant with the relevant Australian laws” This represents one of the growing moments towards ethical consumerism around the world.
We all need to recognise that while “we are living in a world where money commands” we do have the ability to make choices. While we can be selective about what we purchase we are all also in a position in Australia to make sure that our compulsory superannuation is responsibly and ethically invested and some of us might also be able to ensure that ethical decisions frame any other investments we make. Become those ethical consumers to make difference.
In the 2012-2013 Social Justice Statement “The Gift of Family in Difficult Times” the Australian Catholic Bishops reminded us that family is not only at the heart of the church it is the basic unit of society. Pope John Paul II said that “The future of humanity passes by way of the family”, no country or political system can plan its future without consideration for the wellbeing of future generations.
According to the Four Corners report workers like Nazmin are paid only $3 per day in a large factory in Dhaka to make clothes for a large Australian retailer. This subsistence wage just allows Nazmin to travel to her home to see her son once a year while she also helps support the education of her younger brother. But at times it is not enough for her to survive on and she is forced to borrow money.
So when we make that next purchase of clothing perhaps we should take to time to stop and think whose human dignity we are supporting or hurting through that purchase.
“Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative”. Elie Wiesel