I can’t stop thinking about the photograph taken by Taslima Akhter of a man and woman embracing each other in the ruins of Rana Plaza.
The gold bangle on her arm.
Her bright pink and orange sari covered in concrete dust.
An embroidered flower on her sleeve.
The way his arms wrap around her never letting go.
His single red tear.
Is cheap clothing really worth this? More than
800 1,000 dead and they’re still searching. What are we doing?
In my closet I check the tags for countries: China, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Guatemala, India, Jordan, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Vietnam, Macau, Cambodia, El Salvador, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. That’s just the shirts.
Refashioning doesn’t alleviate my guilt. Thrift store racks are filled with inexpensive brands: Old Navy, Walmart’s Faded Glory, Target’s Merona and Mossimo, Kohl’s Sonoma, and more. They’re here because we don’t wear our clothes until they’re worn out. We buy new when we’re bored. Why not? It doesn’t cost us much.
It doesn’t pay much, either. Just over a dollar a day in Bangladesh. $37 a month.
We demand cheap clothing. Companies push manufacturers for lower costs. Manufacturers cut corners to avoid losing contracts to competitors. Governments look the other way because their economies depend on these industries.
It’s a vicious cycle we’ve created. An enormous problem on a global scale. The only thing we can do as individuals is demand better. Pay attention to clothing labels. Educate ourselves. Be willing to pay more.
We can do better, and we should.
recommended reading: Kimberly Ann Elliott is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in international trade policy, with a particular focus on labor standards and trade as a tool for fighting global poverty. In an interview with The Washington Post, she shares relevant knowledge about what’s happening in these countries and how things can improve.