Fashion giants in rights drive after Bangladesh factory tragedy

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Mohammad Ibrahim, a garment worker union leader, in front of the site of the former Rana Plaza garment complex in Savar, northwest of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. (AFP)
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Nilufer Begum, an injured garment worker who survived the Rana Plaza disaster, sits with her crutches by her small tea stall in Savar, northwest of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Every hour seems to be eternal struggle for Nilufer Begum ever since she was pulled out from the debris of the Rana Plaza factory complex, which collapsed in 2013. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018

Fashion giants in rights drive after Bangladesh factory tragedy

  • The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing several garment factories on April 24, 2013 sparked global outrage
  • The Rana Plaza disaster focused global attention on grim working conditions in factories in Bangladesh

PARis: Five years on from the industrial disaster that killed over 1,130 clothing factory workers in Bangladesh, high street fashion giants have invested millions in developing more socially responsible practices.
But experts say the people who produce the T-shirts, dresses and rompers that sell like hotcakes online and on high streets around the world still often face dangerous working conditions and dismally low pay.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing several garment factories in the Dhaka suburb of Savar on April 24, 2013 sparked global outrage and forced a rethink of how fast fashion collections should be produced.
It also triggered a huge drive among activists to encourage shoppers to buy from small, local stores, rather than from large multinationals — while calling the fashion giants to account.
The tragedy, one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history, exposed a key problem of globalization. While workers in Bangladesh earned a pittance for their labor, companies kept prices low and their profits high.
“This global model ... based on keeping production costs low, pitting workers around the world in competition against each other, and ... the short-term search for profit” endures, according to Ethique Pour l’Etiquette, a French group that is part of the global Clean Clothes Campaign.
After years of outrage over images of so-called sweatshops around the world, the Rana Plaza disaster focused global attention on grim working conditions in factories in Bangladesh, the second-biggest garments exporter after China.
According to British charity War on Want, garments exports account for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s total export revenue.
But even today, garments workers’ rights remain far from guaranteed, with many working 14-to 16-hour days at some of Bangladesh’s 4,500 factories, the organization says.
As Western consumers grow more socially and environmentally conscious, the fashion houses that have long relied on factories like those in the Rana Plaza have battled to redeem themselves.
Primark, for one, says it “continues to support those who were affected and ... has contributed a total of over $14 million in aid and compensation.”
It also says it launched a program of building inspections “to assess its suppliers’ factories against international standards” six weeks after the building collapse, and that it “remains committed” to improving the Bangladeshi garment industry as a whole.
Swedish retail giant H&M, which says it never used the Rana Plaza factories to produce garments, is nonetheless committed to ensuring greater “social and environmental progress” in Bangladesh.
On April 19, H&M said in a statement that 450,000 textile workers at 227 factories in Bangladesh that produce garments for its stores worldwide “are now represented by democratically elected representatives.”
The role of these representatives is to “speak on behalf of the workers when discussions are held about for example working hours, working conditions, health and security issues,” the statement said.
More broadly, the International Labour Organization launched a program following the disaster, to “enhance safety in factories so that the country should never again experience a tragedy like the Rana Plaza collapse.”
The ILO program includes training for local producers in chemical safety, inspection of over 1,500 factories for building and fire safety, labor inspection, and an improved culture of safety in the workplace.
Celine Choain, a garment industry specialist at the Paris-based Kea Partners consultancy, said that while there has definitely been progress, much remains to be done.
“The incident definitely acted as a catalyst for brands” to put in place changes in the way they produce their garments, Choain said.
She noted that two thirds of the 1,700 Bangladeshi factories inspected following an ILO-sponsored safety agreement successfully corrected 75 percent of the breaches that were identified.
However, wages remain dismally low, according to War on Want, which last week described working conditions for the vast majority of Bangladesh’s garment factory workers as “appalling.”
Many garment workers earn little more than the minimum wage of 5,300 taka ($65) per month.

From genetics to fashion design, glamor is in Fidda Al-Marzouqi’s genes

A gown designed by Cabochon’s Fidda Al-Marzouqi.(Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2018

From genetics to fashion design, glamor is in Fidda Al-Marzouqi’s genes

  • Fidda Al-Marzouqi talks about her label Cabochon
  • The label is known for its elegant evening gowns and fitted looks

DUBAI: She may have studied genetics and public health, but Fidda Al-Marzouqi has found success in a decidedly more creative field in her home town of Abu Dhabi.

The designer and founder of fashion atelier Cabochon spoke to Arab News about her personal style and the challenges she faced while making the transition to the studio.

“I’ve always loved anything to do with design and I’ve also always loved fashion, dressing myself up,” she said, explaining why she chose to test the waters of sartorial design while maintaining her day job as a senior health officer.

“A lot of people would always ask for my advice on how to style a certain look and my friends encouraged that, because I have natural flair — it’s not something I studied — I should pursue it.”

So, Al-Marzouqi hired a team of master cutters, tailors and hand embroiders and set up the brand Cabochon in 2016.

Named after a gemstone that has been shaped and polished as opposed to faceted, the label is known for its elegant evening gowns and fitted looks.

“It’s all about femininity. I love history, I love all aspects of design, traveling inspires me,” Al-Marzouqi said of her creative process.

However, inspiration and a knack for design will only take you so far in a notoriously competitive industry.

“If you have natural flair at designing or creating a look, there’s the other technical stuff that you’re not aware of like running a team of staff, the facts and figures — that was the challenging part,” the designer said, referring to the obstacles she has faced on her journey so far.

But she learnt the ropes and now oversees all aspects of research, design and production and is particularly keen to ensure the women she dresses have the “full Cabochon experience,” including “the attention, the care (and) the fit.

“I create and I design, but obviously every woman has a certain style so you respect the personality that comes in — her style, the shape of her body, her attitude, what she likes and, accordingly, you get inspired as a designer.”