It is that time of the year when shop window displays entice passers-by with the appeal of new-season fashions. Easily persuaded, I find myself drawn in 'just to browse'. Okay, that is not the whole truth. If I am honest, to browse is to buy. Having walked in the way of temptation and failed to resist, a few hours later the ensuing guilt rears its ugly head. In the past this regret would simply result from my tendency to make impulsive purchases, despite an ever-dwindling bank balance. These days it is far worse. While having to face my post-purchase bank statement, I must also contend with a conscience that reminds me my newly acquired garments were likely made under less-than-favourable conditions. Then again, maybe not.
It is this lack of transparency on the part of UK High Street retailers which The Global Poverty Project hopes to tackle with their latest campaign, See Through Fashion. The campaign aims to call upon the four British retailers - River Island, Matalan, Peacocks and Sports Direct - who have so far refused to sign a crucial safety agreement following the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in April, while also celebrating and championing the retailers who have signed the Accord - for example Primark and H&M. The harsh reality? Those 1,100 men, women and children - people just like us - lost their lives making the clothes many of us would likely have been wearing a few weeks later. As a Global Poverty Ambassador and a Global Citizen I had hoped the public would naturally have applied more pressure to High Street retailers until they committed to safer and fairer working practices. However, the reality is closer to the scene I drove past this evening: two homeless men asleep in the doorway of a luxury clothing store. The contrast struck me as a fitting metaphor for the dilemma we face each time we shop for new clothes. Do we care enough about the human cost of our purchases?
As is the case with the many tragic stories we hear - such as the collapsing of Rana Plaza - once the media hype subsides and the shock wears-off, we return to our habits of retail therapy and bargain hunting. What delight is comparable to the one experienced when going to the checkout only to realise those jeans or shoes are actually on sale? Oh joy! Having spoken to a number of friends about their shopping habits, the appeal of a good deal often shouts louder than their conscience. In saying this, the majority used the words, 'I know what the right thing to do is' as a qualification for admitting the lack of transparency allows them to shop almost guilt-free. While this is good news for retailers, it is simply inexcusable that we would allow fellow human beings to be exploited so that we can look good, clad from head-to-toe in the latest trends. Workers at Rana Plaza were stationed in unsafe conditions, getting paid £25 a month and working 12 hour shifts, many of whom were women with an average of two children. This means that most workers were living below the poverty line.
Results from a recent national survey, undertaken by The Global Poverty Project/ You Gov, reveal that 76 per cent of those surveyed believe companies should be transparent about the conditions of the factories where their goods are produced. Participants also want retailers to be upfront about the wages earned by the workers; 74 per cent said they would be likely to pay an extra five per cent for their clothes if there was a guarantee workers were being paid fairly and working in safe conditions. Deep down we are a nation who cares and it is time we made a noise about it, taking action for greater transparency in the fashion industry so that we can protect the working conditions and rights of workers, starting in Bangladesh.
A friend who calls herself 'converted' to the ways of a socially conscious individual, phrased it thoughtfully: 'Until we realise that the choices we make on an everyday basis have a global impact, we have no reason to see more than the small picture of here and now.' It is up to us to take action, on behalf of the 4 million people involved in the Bangladeshi garment industry, to ask for fairer wages which lift and keep them out of extreme poverty. When all retailers agree to these conditions, it will be a far happier day than the one when I score a bargain at the checkout.
Take action by joining me and The Global Poverty Project team to be part of the See Through Fashion campaign. Through working together we have the opportunity to bring about change and hope for some of the world's poorest.