Podcast Ep. 5 KALPONA AKTER, BEYOND RANA PLAZA
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Kalpona Akter is executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS). Self-professed NOISY WOMAN, Kalpona is an inspirational and influential figure in the country's union movement and in global politics.
Kalpona is a former child labourer who began working in a garment factory at age 12.
By 17, she'd been fired for standing up for her own rights, and those of her colleagues. "The day they fired this noisy woman, was the day they made a big mistake," she says.
80 % of GARMENT WORKERS ARE WOMEN, most aged between 18 and 25. Most have children and aren't paid nearly enough for their toils. The minimum wage in Bangladesh is about $67 per month...
In this powerful Episode, Kalpona tells her extraordinary, moving and important story, which includes dark tales of murder and danger as well as stories of resilience and hope.
She explains what it’s really like for female garment workers in Bangladesh, and gives her first-hand account of the aftermath of RANA PLAZA. She shares her insights into what we, as consumers, can do. And it doesn't involve boycotting 'Made in Bangladesh'. Read her recent op ed piece on why, here.
LINKS TO MAKE YOU THINK...
Fashion Revolution is a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. "We want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way." #whomademyclothes
The Clean Clothes Campaign is dedicated to improving working conditions and supporting the empowerment of workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.
LABOUR BEHIND THE LABEL supports garment workers worldwide.
Kalpona was awarded the 2016 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism by HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (HRW) - a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organisation known for its "accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of media, and targeted advocacy, often in partnership with local human rights groups".
HOW TO BUY RESPONSIBLY MADE FASHION? PROJECT JUST IS GREAR PLACE TO START. This free online resource empowers shoppers to make informed choices aligned with their values. Search brands to see how they stack up when it comes to things like transparency, labour conditions and intention. Plus their articles are awesome.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Many people ask me why I got interested in responsible fashion. After working for magazines for so many years, what drew me to this supposed niche? The answer is partly that I don’t think it should be a niche – I think fashion’s ethics, the way the business operates and its score card when it comes to people and planet, should be up for general discussion. But if you’re after an event, a watershed moment, when I, like many others, thought hang on a minute, WTF? We seriously need to shift conversation here, it was Rana Plaza.
The Rana Plaza factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh was the deadliest garment industry accident in history. When these buildings collapsed on the 24th April 2013 they killed more than 1134 people, and injured about 2,500 more. And most of them were women.
Bangladesh is the second largest garment producer after China. About 4 million workers are employed by the industry, and about 3.5 million of them are women. Meanwhile despite growth in the global menswear market it is women who remain fashion's biggest consumers. Women make clothes; women buy them. So this is a feminist issue. It's a story about human rights, and the violation of those rights.
"ONE PERSON SPEAKS, IT'S LIKE RINGING A BELL. A SMALL BELL CAN MAKE A HUGE NOISE WHEN MANY ARE GATHERED TOGETHER. YOU CAN CHANGE THIS SITUATION." - KALPONA AKTER
In this short documentary (above) by the New York Times, a photojournalist who documented the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza building draws connections to New York from clothing labels he found in the rubble. Produced by Ismail Ferdous and Nathan Fitch.
LET'S TALK... THE BANGLADESH ACCORD
1.The Bangladesh Accord on Fire & Safety was introduced in May 2013.
2.More than 220 brands are signatories. Here's a full list.
3. A legally binding agreement, the Accord commits signatories to a bunch of stuff to ensure the OH&S of garment workers. Stuff like: not locking the goddamn doors in case workers steal from the factory, which pretty much has never happened anyway. Not that a little thing like a locked door is going to prevent the determined thief. That door, however, will sure-as-hell prevent a worker escaping with their life should a fire break out.
4. Accord signatories commit to allowing independent inspectors into their factories, public disclosure of report findings and - importantly - workers' rights to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.
4. Surprise, surprise not everyone signed it. In Australia, WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU BEST & LESS and JUST GROUP. The latter owns - warning pun head - (un)Just JEANS, Portmans (not a good look) and Peter Alexander (ditto). You can read some more about the Just Group's shoddy behaviour here. Anyway...
5. The Accord was a five-year thing and expires next year, which is not good obviously because even with the Accord in place, preventable workplace fires and fatal accidents keep happening - like this one on July 4, which killed at least 13 people.
6. But there's hope. In June, at the OECD Global Forum for Responsible Business Conduct in Paris, a group of brands (including H&M, Zara-owner Inditex, PVH and both Target & K-Mart Australia), did commit to a new Accord.
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Until next time,