Over the past week global news outlets and social media platforms have reported on the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh. The death toll is now approaching 400, and is estimated to increase by at least another 1000. Consumers have been deeply saddened by this tragedy, but at the same time many of us are motivated to change the way we buy our clothing.
As the Founding Executive Director of Fashion Takes Action, Canada's only members based non profit devoted to sustainability in the fashion industry, I have been addressing social and environmental issues for many years. I am deeply saddened that it has taken a tragedy of this scope for the average person to rethink their clothing purchases. But hopefully there will be some good to come of this.
While its no secret that we at Fashion Takes Action are not fans of any fast fashion brand, particularly ones that completely ignore sustainability initiatives, we do not feel that a boycott of Joe Fresh or "Made in Bangladesh" is the solution. Two thirds of the employed population in Bangladesh work for the garment industry, and a boycott would only cause greater hardship to their impoverished population.
In a press conference this morning, Joe Fresh President Joseph Mimran, along with Loblaw Companies CEO Galen Weston, announced they will be setting up a relief fund for victims and their families, creating a new standard that respects facility building codes and laws, and having their own staff on the ground to ensure safe environments that meet Canadian standards. This seems reasonable, if its sincere. But given their complete lack of transparency and committment to corporate social responsibility in the past, it is completely reasonable to question their sincerity.
While discussion is better than running and hiding, I am more interested in action. Its not enough to know they are working to fix the problem. I want to know what they are doing to prevent this from ever happening again, and I want them to be transparent about it. Today, tomorrow, five years from now.
As a Canadian fashion icon and leading retailer, Joe Fresh owes it to their customers to be up front about the working conditions in their factories, as well as what social initiatives they will take to improve the well-being of factory workers, and the wages they receive.