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The Faces Behind Your Clothes

On April 24, 2013, several garment factories within an eight-story building collapsed in Savar, near Bangladesh’s capital. More than 1,100 people lost their lives, and the situation sparked investigation into the clothing industry.

The Rana Plaza housed a variety of clothing brands, including well-known companies such as Wal-Mart, Dress Barn and The Children’s Place. Workers said severe cracks in the building were reported the day before the collapse, but a factory manager ignored them.

What is worse, Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, the head of the National Fire Service, said an initial investigation revealed the Rana Plaza violated several building codes and contained structural faults.

Since this incident, the fashion industry is under strict scrutiny in order to create better working conditions for employees. Yet, a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, “Tainted Garments,” reveals the work is far from finished.

After China, India is the world’s second-largest manufacturer and exporter of clothing. Approximately 13 million laborers work in factories, but as the latest study shows, there are thousands more who work for large companies from home in dangerous conditions.

The report, written by Siddarth Kara, contains interviews from 1,452 home workers in such situations. Most of these impoverished women work for popular Western brands.

Working from home may seem like a dream job to you and me, but for these women, the picture is not so pretty. These women are not lounging in cozy pajamas, sipping tea and managing their own schedule. They are being exploited and pressured to work in hazardous conditions.

And most of us wear the clothes they make.

The report also brings light to inhumane practices such as child labor and forced labor. The youngest worker interviewed was 10 years old, and according to the report’s findings, 19 percent of the workers are between the ages of 10 and 18.

None of the women have a trade union representing them. None of them have a written contract for their “job.” They can earn between the equivalent of $3.08 to $8.44 for an eight-hour work day. However, the report states many of these women receive far less than they are owed.

According to Kara, injury, chronic illness and diminishing eyesight were common factors among those interviewed. He also took notice the work was typically performed in filthy environments.

One woman interviewed said, “We cannot leave this work even though we are treated so badly. If we leave this work, the company will never give us work again.”

Do you know where your clothes come from? Do you care?

The harsh reality is the vast majority of us do not give a second thought to the “who” behind our clothes. We look at the price, we look at the logo, we look at the quality, we look at the design, but we do not read the tiny print on the inside of the tag.

Perhaps we are too trusting of the brands we are loyal to, and perhaps this is something which needs to change. In many cases, the person who made your shirt could hardly afford to buy it for themselves.

We, as consumers, have the power to make a difference in the lives of those behind our clothes. There are several resources, which provide helpful information to consumers about companies’ practices, including the Good on You app available in the App Store.

Stay informed. Be aware. We have the power to spark change.

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