Did you see the ‘fashion’ news this week? It wasn’t about a runway show or shorter hemlines. No, it was about the 348 people (read: garment factory workers) who were crushed to death in a building collapse in Bangladesh. How is that a fashion story you ask? Check out this sentence from the New York Times account of the tragedy:

“Many of the garment factories in the building were packed with employees who worked for $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.”

Thirty-eight dollars per month!? Is it any wonder the garment factories that once existed in New York City have virtually disappeared? Even illegal immigrants here won’t work for that kind of money. But they will in Bangladesh and other countries overseas and “top international brands” know that all too well. An earlier article from the August, 2012 edition of The Times declared:

“Bangladesh, once poor and irrelevant to the global economy, is now an export powerhouse, second only to China in global apparel exports, as factories churn out clothing for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Calvin Klein and H&M. Global retailers like Target and Walmart now operate sourcing offices in Dhaka, the capital. Garments are critical to Bangladesh’s economy, accounting for 80 percent of manufacturing exports and more than three million jobs”

American consumers might be clueless about where their clothes are produced but you can bet that American companies know all too well that the clothes they sell and/or put their logo on are made overseas where the labor is as cheap as it can possibly be. Whether the companies know that their clothes were produced in this particular warehouse (the one that just collapsed) is debatable. No doubt — even if their clothes are found in the rubble — they will say, “We had no knowledge that our manufacturers were producing our clothes there.”

And they might be telling the truth, in a way. Big name brands put the squeeze on American manufacturers to produce clothes as cheaply as possible and they in turn scour the globe for places like Bangladesh to find factories that will produce the clothing for pennies. Never mind how much the workers (some of them children) are paid. Thirty-eight dollars a month translates to a bit more than $1 a day for what is surely at least an eight-hour shift, probably much longer. It’s true that big American brands are not ordering manufacturers to produce their clothing overseas but by slashing the amount the brands will pay, they are effectively doing the same thing…and they know it.

And yet, there is no outcry about this dastardly business practice on the part of big American brands except from labor unions in the United States who are discounted because they have a vested interest.

It’s very difficult to get the American consumer interested in this scandal. When they learn about it, of course they’re outraged but the vast majority also want bargains and good prices and discounts and those words lead right back to the factory door in Bangladesh.

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