How to help Bangladesh garment factory workers right now?

"In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing."

From Edward Burke.  18th century Irish statesman and author.  (1729 - 1797)

This is a blog post I wrote on my top 10 suggestions to help Bangladeshi garment workers.

Problem is, I, like most of us, truly didn't know the extent of how badly the garment workers were suffering.  I love my skinny jeans. I have oodles of them. At least 15.  And with many of these, would smile at the irony of the 'Made in Bangladesh" label and the connection it made with me, personally.  Little did I know that it would soon be my raison d'etre. 

You see, I am British born but my heritage is Bangladeshi.  So, as soon as UK head towards a sunnier climate, I, like other Brits, can be found scooting off to those shops where you can buy 50 items under £20 and pile up the basket high.   Then if I am visiting Bangladesh, I often pack these items in my case the bizarreness of that label to my local Bangladeshi friends and fellow workers, all of whom would scratch their heads at the wonder of it all and sigh "Well at least it is money into the country pot, we are grateful."  But who would have known then the real tragedy and exploitation at the heart of the fast turnover fashion brands we love to wear?

Herein, I now, no longer relish cheap, skinny pink jeans anymore.  The jeans, (yes all 15 of them which I have bought in the past) sit staring at me forlornly, peeping from my drawers shouting "Oh, so now you've dumped me?"  My own personal horror movie storyboard.

It is not just the top brands who are being blamed.  We as consumers ,who bought the garments and cheap clothing, are also being accused. And quite right too.  We create the demand, they supply, and the workers work like ants, scurrying about, producing millions and millions of stitched items in over a decade. 

So enamoured are we by the low prices.  How to save our own pennies from our pockets.  We all know this scene, don't we? In the past, my mates would lovingly stroke and squeal "Oooh, where are these jeans from then, where and how much?".  I would squeal with delight: "It's £12 - yes, just £12".

But having seen the horrific images and learnt something really bad has happened, is STILL happening to poor workers, who might have been stitching the seams on the fuschia skinny jeans I wore, am rendered mute.  I now think twice.

I now feel, albeit unwittingly, this question looming in my head. Did I contribute to the workers demise by buying these jeans?  I seriously ask that.  I do! Even though I am a person who is already establishing a start up and spent my life savings doing so, to help Bangladesh, it matters not one jot.  I still have an icky taste in my mouth from seeing these Western brands, where the tears, blood and sweat  are wiped and hidden away in turn for glamourous fashion campaigns.

I argue with myself.  But the cool, rational other voice in my head says 'Ok, so you did not know then.  But you do now. So, watcha gonna do, woman, whatcha gonna do?".

Some of us will continue not wanting to know any more.  Some are lost.  Confused.  Many might be like me.  Feeling bad and powerless.  But at the same time on a tight budget.   Wanting to know more yet also not to know.  To also find themselves asking: "Well what the hell l can I do anyway?".  That is what assaulted my mind today. Since I woke, sat up and still am doing so, on this very sunny London Sunday afternoon.  So I pondered a bit and then researched the net.  And wrote this blog post.   (And missed Sunday breakfast to boot.  Darn.  But no worries will have a heavy lunch!)

Often we bloody don't know what to do. It's that simple.   But look as Burke put it neatly: "In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing."  One of the quotes I have often referred to in the many prototype dismantled copy section of my Lovedesh website, my little boutique British food, design and travel brand for championing the poorest nations in the world ,which I am slowly setting up after I was inspired by my first solo trip to Bangladesh in 2009.

I also learnt that some top brands were pulling out of Bangladesh - after the Rana Plaza incident.  And that made me sad.  I thought no. Bangladesh needs us to keep buying - sustainably.  We need to show support for the garment workers in a safe and responsible way.  Besides the jeans are paid for and worn now.  So I will wear them and when I do, remind myself this time that I paid £12 at the expense of another person.  But in the meantime, I can do something about it. I can use my voice and my spending power. 

So, this post is for those who like me, who once we do know, feel awful.  Who  scream inwardly: "what the heck can I do?"  (Ok you might not scream inside like me.  You might whisper it secretly or it might pop into your head as it does me, when I watch British TV stalwarts Ant & Dec or X Factor or Coronation Street. Or as you take a bite of your Hobnob biscuit and sip your tea (Yorkshire Gold).

Well here you go.  Here are my suggestions.    Just some ideas I mustered on how to help us ordinary people, help the garment workers. Some involve money.  Most don't.   Here they are. I hope these help?


1. Sign.  Support a petition led by Avaaz, a global advocacy group who as I write now, are about to head towards a million signatures.  The petition asks for top brands to enforce fire safety regulations.

2. Support and buy fair trade from ethical labels that produce and buy from Bangladesh in a positive way.

3.  Sign again.  Sign the clean clothes petition - show your support.

4. Track/tweet/share progress of Sumi & Kalpona who are garment workers and have flown to USA to confront Walmart with the help of Sum Of Us.  These are brave women.

5.  NR's (non residents) take action.   If you are a NRB (non resident Bangladeshi) or non resident of any other poor nation, or perhaps have roots or links to poor nations such as Bangladesh, get out there!  Donate to, or set up local sustainable projects that will benefit your ancestral family's village and cities in Bangladesh or fund livelihoods at a micro level.  Then go back if you can.  It's the best form of charity there is.  It's your baby and you have the power to transform lives.

You're not alone.  There are many non residents like us who put our money where our mouth is, and are helping the countries their parents hailed from. That' what I am doing.   Visit Amcariza Foundation.  That's my baby.

I recently have invested a few grand to get this going and the entire group of villagers are helping.  All of whom are led by me and my lovely Bangladeshi volunteers I found who are helping me.  See the veg plots below. I did that and so employ now some local villagers.

Ok it is a long slog.  But I am doing this slowly and setting this up so that the local Bangladeshi  people can work with foreign and local businesses.  Skills and basic literacy are the key to get them there.   So how I see it is like this.  If I, on my own can do it,  so can you too?  Go on.  Email me if yo want help or encouragement?

6.  Get educated.   Get a different view of Bangladesh from people who campaign for or love the country.  Check out what Models Alliance are doing with their video fronted by top model Sara Ziff.  I set up Lovedesh to help change how we, the rest of the world view Bangladesh.  Think about visiting it instead and donating to local projects or people you come across.  Or even if you cannot visit, to start talking positively about the country to the people you meet.  You can say 'yeah the country has tragic industrial sector but still 160 million people who live there cannot escape - so best thing is to start visiting"

7.  Niche donation.  Donate to niche and specialist charities that represent garment workers.  You can help by donating to Labour Behind the Label who are funding projects to change the industry.

8.  Swap the guilt.  Each time you buy a garment with a 'made in Bangladesh' label, decide next time to either donate or buy an item from an ethical company.

9.  Lobby British curry houses.  Next time you visit a curry house, chances are it is owned by a British Bangladeshi all of whom largely contribute to the success of its almost £4 billion industry.  They love Bangladesh and often run by friendly, smiling owners who regularly visit Bangladesh.
Urge them to sign the petition or make donations via the links in their post?

10.  Feel good.  Don't beat yourself up for buying a cheap garment from a top brand.  I stopped because I have taken some action.  I signed petitions.  I tweet.    Yeah, ok so I was thoughtless because it was quick, easy and cheap.   But then do something about it.  Sadly I cannot save everyone.   But I can stop feeling rubbish and do something today.   So ta-da - I hope this blog post solves that dilemma a little bit?

Finally.  It's not great to hear some top brands are contemplating leaving the country.  No. That is not the right answer.  That is the coward's way. You stay and help to fix the problem, your helped contribute to.  The sector gives nearly 4 millions Bangladeshis a job. So now is not the time to scarper.  Please, Western brands,  don't desert the garment workers who have families to feed.  Even the much talked about aid and rescue packages might not be a reality.  Loss of jobs for many of these young women has far reaching and great implications. It means loss of status, money, education for their siblings (they would support them).

The Bangladeshi garment workers need, more than ever now, the chance to rebuild their lives, their families, communities and their nation.  Plus with the national elections looming in 2014, the Bangladeshi people are poised to change their nation.  With what I believe is the help of:

  1. Non resident Bangladeshis
  2. Consumers
  3. Foreigner travellers
  4. NGOs and Diplomats
  5. CEOS of top clothing brands ( see my past post here) about them
So yes, maybe you t fall into one of the groups above? But you see, all it takes is one person to change the world. As have others, as time and history has shown. 

So, come on. Let's all do something from one of the suggestions above?

And please don't give up on this nation even if others are?   Countries like Bangladesh need you and me.

Yasmin C. 

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