Until now, more than 1000 people are estimated to have been killed in the collapse of the Bangladesh garment factory. Statistics make this accident one of the worst garment factory disasters in modern history. As governments, organizations, and conscientious consumers look for solutions and ways to prevent another catastrophic loss of life, some are considering the role a company or consumer boycott of clothing made in Bangladesh would have. But how should consumers respond? Is pushing for a boycott of Bangladeshi products really the solution? Experts differ on the possible effects of such a move.
Professor Linda Scott at Oxford University says no:
The most obvious thing to do is to take away shopping dollars, and I do appreciate that stopping power, but I am just afraid that moves the problem someplace else. There is always another country that is happy to take on garment manufacturing. That is why it moves around so much. If the factories move elsewhere, it does not really solve the problem. It just moves misery somewhere else. And it takes away work from the people in Bangladesh.
Paul Collins of the British Anti-poverty Group War on Want also hesitates to endorse such a move:
We take our lead from our partner, the National Garment Workers’ Federation in Bangladesh, and they take their lead from the trade union members they support – mainly women – who say that these jobs should be decent jobs that are safe, pay a living wage and do not force them to work excessive hours. But they fear that a boycott campaign would mean they would lose their jobs. They come from rural areas and abject poverty, so they have not asked us to mount a boycott campaign.
Jamie Terzi, Bangladesh Country Director for CARE International, offered the following perspective:
I think for an incident of this magnitude to occur, we are talking about a systemic failure, where there are multiple responsibilities and, more strongly, culpabilities. It is not particularly helpful to pick one person or group, the problem is simply too large and too complex. It is absolutely the government; it is absolutely the people of Bangladesh calling on their government to be more accountable; it is up to the factory owners; it is up to the buyers and it absolutely is up to the consumers in Western countries.
Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion emphasizes the same point made by Terzi:
Bangladesh is a very poor country so even if they wanted to implement changes there is not a lot of money to do so. We’re talking about a $500,000 (£320,000) investment per factory to get some of these changes implemented and the brands can afford it. The factories can’t. Consumers are ready for ethical fashion. They want to see fair labor standards implemented and abided by, and they would support it if the brands made headway on that.
For consumers, particularly those in the west, who decide to respond to the tragedy, all of these experts agree that there are a number of complex and interlocking issues to be considered here. Everyone, from governments to multi-nationals, to consumers will have a role to play in developing a solution to save lives in the future.
– Délice Williams