Why I won't stop shopping at Primark

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Why I won’t stop shopping at Primark by Ilana Winterstein


Primark was one company whose clothes were made at Rana Plaza Sharat Chowdhury, under a CC License

The collapse of the factory in Bangladesh has filled the media with terrible pictures of human tragedy: mothers losing their children, rescue workers covered in dust digging up more bodies, death and terrible sadness increasing under all the bricks, rubbish and boxes of new clothes.

Lots of workers and rescuers have sent me e-mails and photos, but there is one image in particular that I cannot forget. It is a man covered with dust and dead, hugging a woman who has died in his arms. I cannot stop thinking, again and again, when did he reach over to protect and comfort her? When did they know they were both going to die? What were their final words to each other? Did they even know each other or did the terrible collapsing building bring them together?

Pictures like these should not exist. Not for the price of a cheap pair of jeans or a $3 t-shirt that someone can wear a few times and then throw away. Not ever.

It is a sad fact that ‘sweatshop’ factories (where workers work very long hours for low pay and no rights) are still a big problem. This is a problem that Labour Behind the Label have been campaigning against for years. But this does not change the shock many people feel at this factory collapse last week. This image, together with the hundreds of others of people who died in the building collapse, has made everyone think about what we, as consumers, can and should do.

In the past few days many people have asked me: ‘where’s OK to shop now?’ They assume that boycotting a shop, refusing to buy there, is the solution. We can understand that people want to punish the owners of shops, by making them earn less money. But we say it is better not to boycott them. It is better to think more about the workers, and make sure people respect their rights. If people boycott a shop, they can cut production or stop using a factory. This means loss of jobs, factory workers unable to feed their families or send their children to school.

The Rana Plaza tragedy is not the only one. There are so many problems in the garment and fashion industry. Many times, the fashion companies say they have changed their production, but they do not put enough money or plans into the change, so the change does not happen.

Countries like Bangladesh really need the growing clothes business. If we boycott western shops, they might simply leave Bangladesh completely. We don’t need a quick solution like this. We need a commitment to long-term, real and lasting change. We want companies to work with workers’ unions and to listen to what the workers think. They are the people who know the conditions best. Companies need improve building safety, working conditions and to make sure workers are paid a living wage. We, people who buy the clothes, must fight for this change by asking good questions of the companies who make the clothes. We must fight for change. We can put pressure on Primark and other companies to sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. This gives workers and local unions a central role and it can make a real difference to the lives of workers. As a consumer you have much more power than simply where you shop. You have a voice.

The campaign has had a lot of success. For example, 2,800 Indonesian workers from the PT Kizone factory won against Adidas. This shows the power people have when workers, unions and consumers worldwide come together. If you take action, sign petitions and write to company CEOs, you can help by making them respect their workers’ rights.

Because we owe the people that died at Rana Plaza. We owe them for the cheap clothes we wear, and because we are still here but they are not. We will continue fighting to make sure that global companies will never again take no responsibility until it is too late. They must never again put profit before people. We could have prevented the deaths of the man and woman who died in each others’ arms last week. We could have stopped the deaths of hundreds of other people in other factories over the last decade. We will continue fighting for them. People should never again risk their lives for the price of a cheap t-shirt.

Please look at: http://www.cleanclothes.org/action and http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/blog/2013/05/03/bangladesh-rana-plaza-primark-boycott/'