Brett Staniland On Rana Plaza, Protests and Impact
For Fashion Revolution Week, sustainable fashion campaigner and creator Brett Staniland remembers the Rana Plaza tragedy on its tenth anniversary and shares why direct action is the necessary response for change.
It’s been 10 years since the most devastating industrial disaster to ever hit the fashion industry at Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, yet we’re still not in a position to say it will never happen again, and many people have still never heard of it.
The Bangladesh Accordand subsequent International Accords – holding brands legally accountable for their suppliers and factories – have been signed by brands all over the world, a testament to the good work many organisations do. However, many were reluctant to sign, requiring great public pressure and many more still refuse to sign them. Levi’s, for example, is yet to sign the International Accord despite growing pressure, and in December, four workers in Pakistan died after inhaling poisonous gas at one of their factories. Even more brands still haven’t signed Fair Pay petitions, leading us to wonder why is it so difficult for brands to be half-decent – we are literally asking for the bare minimum here. Why isn’t there more awareness around these issues and why does fashion continue to have a shaky relationship with accountability?
In my experience as an activist, I’ve found that people take issues perpetuated by the fashion industry less seriously than other industries because it’s creative, it’s one of the arts, hence it’s not a ‘real job’ and therefore can’t have a real or serious impact on the planet.
In my experience as an activist, I’ve found that people take issues perpetuated by the fashion industry less seriously than other industries because it’s creative, it’s one of the arts, hence it’s not a ‘real job’ and therefore can’t have a real or serious impact on the planet. It’s probably why there is so little access to the industry for working-class and marginalised background folks, as it’s only those who can afford to have a “creatively whimsical”, non-sensical, “fun”, “CUTE”, job in fashion. I think much of this is rooted in misogyny for a historically-speaking, women-dominated industry, whose jobs aren’t as important or even as “good” as one in a male-dominated industry. This is particularly true of the UK, throughout other European countries there exists a much greater respect for working in the fashion industry.
However, there’s a massive elephant in the room, as to who could make a big difference in a short space of time. “The onus is on the brands,” says Venetia La Manna, a slow fashion campaigner and creator. “They purposely want us to be disconnected from the people who make our clothes, it’s a method of ensuring we continue to over-consume their clothing, meaning we continue to boost their profits.” She’s not wrong, considering that in the ten years since the Rana Plaza disaster we have an even bigger, quicker and more exploitative fashion industry, and ethically speaking, the worst brands have thrived the most, with Shein’s valuation growing from $5 billion to $100 billion between 2019-2022.
They purposely want us to be disconnected from the people who make our clothes, it’s a method of ensuring we continue to over-consume their clothing, meaning we continue to boost their profits.
Venetia La Manna
One way of raising awareness is through protests. We have seen a rise in people exercising their right to take to the streets and make a stand. From rail workers to Stop Oil and XR, we have seen some effective action, through disruption. Perhaps fashion needs to take a leaf out of their books and truly disrupt the industry, and I don’t mean by making another “sustainable” t-shirt. We need to dig deeper if we are really going to break through. “History has taught us that taking disruptive action is how we create meaningful and progressive change. It’s a way to be in solidarity with garment makers who don’t have the privilege that I do”, says Venetia who also co-founded the ‘Remember Who Made Them’ campaign in 2020. “We’ve been told time and time again by garment makers and unions just how much brands care about their image. Publicly calling them out for their exploitation is a tool to dismantle their brand image and communicate how they are exploiting the most important people in fashion: garment makers.”
Fashion needs to take a leaf out of [Stop Oil and XR’s] books and truly disrupt the industry, and I don’t mean by making another “sustainable” t-shirt. We need to dig deeper if we are really going to break through.
Taking to the streets isn’t the only form of protest we have at our disposal now. Social media, despite all its flaws and contributions to a disposable fashion culture, has at least granted us the opportunity to reach large audiences with online activism. But it must go deeper than a “share to my story” or retweet. We are always flooded with outpours of faux support and performative solidarity on specific causes within their specific weeks or months. But a reshare during those times is not enough and doesn’t cut it. We have to go bigger than that if we want to have an impact. Our activism needs consistency and longevity, and integrate it into our daily lives. Garment workers aren’t only being exploited during Fashion Revolution Week and the planet isn’t only suffering on Earth Day. Continuing our own education around these issues is vital as brands can’t be trusted to help us learn, they only serve to benefit their own interests. We are hopeful that whilst Earth Day, Environment Day, Fashion Revolution Week and all the rest can help us regroup and reinspire, we can carry that on throughout the rest of the year when People and Planet need us most.
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