About 2 months ago, I was shopping in Dundee and found myself wandering through the children’s clothes section of a well-known store. My attention was caught by a brightly coloured orange tee-shirt with an embroidered lion motif. Just the thing for, as he was then, my four month old grandson. So I bought it. On the label it said – Made in Bangladesh.
I have clothes myself – shirts and jumpers and tee shirts – bought in a number of different well known stores – which also have labels which say Made in Bangladesh. Good quality, the kind of patterns and designs I would wear. And Alexander looked great in his lion motif tee-shirt!
Since 2009 whenever I have bought clothes in this country with a label which says Made in Bangladesh I have two pictures in my mind. It was in that year that I visited one of my former students who was just a few years younger than me, and met his son whom I had never met. Cyprian told me that he worked in a garment factory in Dhaka and was responsible for a team of about 200 workers, mainly women.
He was not allowed to tell me which firms the factory made clothes for, but he told me it was tee-shirts. The work involved long days – he said it was easier in the winter because it was cooler, but in the summer months it could get very hot in the factory. However, he told me that he enjoyed his work, and as a Christian he took his responsibilities for those for whom he was team leader very seriously. He told me that 95% of those who were in the team were women. I asked him what these women would be doing if they had not managed to get jobs in a garment factory. His answer came back immediately – they would at best be domestic servants in a wealthy home working for a pittance, at worst they would be working as prostitutes. He was able to support his own young wife and also his parents in that isolated village where we met.
The second picture I have in my mind is one which a number of people in Carnoustie Panbride also have. That of travelling through Dhaka and into the suburbs in early morning about 7 or 8 o’clock with the roads thronging with thousands of women going to start their shift in one of the thousands of garment factories which have sprung up in the last 25 or so years. We could see the factories – stark concrete buildings – guards at the gates, sometimes armed. The small row of windows on each floor open to let in fresh air, the ceiling fans whirling the hot air around.
The first picture is why I buy clothes made in Bangladesh because I have seen the difference such work can make to individuals and families.
But the second picture is the one which in recent weeks raises many more questions than it answers. Over 1100 people dead, 2,500 rescued – and hundreds still missing – in the 8 storey building housing garment factories which collapsed in Savar, Dhaka. The Church of Bangladesh which has a large compound in the same area sent bottled water, dry food, air fresheners and masks for those who were trying to rescue people; the young people of the church decided to go to hospitals to donate blood for those injured.
Bishop Paul with the encouragement of UK and European Mission Societies is establishing a group to campaign for improved conditions in factories (an initiative which many clothing companies have signed up to already) but also to look at factory safety, which a number have signed up to, but some are reluctant. Part of the problem seemed to be that the building was only designed for 5 levels but a further 3 were built. It is believed that builders also charged for finest grade steel for the pillars, but actually used cheaper and weaker material, and cut back on the quality and amount of cement used.
John Christie said at the Assembly “Please don’t stop buying clothes from Bangladesh because of what has happened”. Bishop Paul also said in an email – “Don’t stop buying clothes with labels which say Made in Bangladesh.”
A couple of weeks ago I bought two tee shirts for Alexander – both of them have labels which say Made in Bangladesh. I know how important the industry is to the people who work in it – and I know what the alternative is. And I can see the face of Cyprian in that village in 2009 telling me about his work in the garment factories. These workers need us to continue buying what they produce.