WHAT HAPPENED? On April 24, 2013, 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. After learning that many of the workers made less than $60 a month for 60-70 hour work weeks, Pope Francis bemoaned: “This is called slave labor." He added: “Today in the world slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us - the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation?”
Amidst the destruction, the clothing and tags found in the rubble that would eventually hang in our closets unveiled the connectedness of consumers to the people who create the clothes we buy. “While blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing,” Jerry Davis, Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan concluded, “the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain - to us” (Letter, NYT 05.08.13).
WHAT CAN YOU DO? Between now and Black Friday (Nov. 25), postcards are being sent to the CEOs of Macy’s and Kohl’s in support of a living wage at the sites where our clothes are made. We ask for your involvement.
When we visit a supermarket, we can purchase organic and fair trade items. When we visit an auto dealer, we can buy a hybrid. Some chains build their identity and customer base by offering those options. We know that the hybrid and the organic, fair trade items may cost us a bit more, but we are willing to pay for them for a broader benefit.
Except for a few niche clothing items sold in a few boutiques, as of yet, no major chain sells clothing sourced in other countries that is fair trade. But we know that most of it comes from places we read on our labels: Bangladesh, China, India, Vietnam, Honduras, Mexico. Pope Francis has called the wages paid those workers: “slave labor.”
Given the woeful wages in garment-producing countries, did the workers who made my clothing receive a wage that will support them and their families? Knowing that the garment industry is the second biggest user of water and the consequent immense harm that the garment industry does to the environment, we also ask what care and provision was made for the care of creation in the production of this garment?
For years members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have engaged retailers, including Macy’s and Kohl’s on supply chain issues. However they have rejected calls to address wages at the sites where our clothes are made.
After the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, Professor Jerry Davis of the Ross School of Business wrote a letter to The New York Times. In it he said that change never comes about from investor/shareholder actions without an accompanying consumer effort. This is our effort to make such a difference. We’ve shared this Campaign with him; he is very supportive.
If you agree with us, we’d ask you to sign, stamp, and mail a postcard to Macy’s and to Kohl’s telling them as much. Both of these companies have good track records in various areas but, if they would support this effort, things would be so much better. We are telling them: If they will lead, we will buy.