Eyeview on Bangladesh

on Saturday, 01 April 2017.

visionblog2While Organic Bed Threads appraises the efforts of ethical production processes in our chosen manufacturing country of India, and focus' on the poignant role of fair trade and safe working conditions in all phases of our bed linen creations from certified organic cotton seed to chemical free artisan studio; India's neighbour, Bangladesh, the second largest ready-made garment (RMG) producing country in the world has had many an eagle eye and critical media backlash on this apparel manufacturing hub since 2013.

As we head towards the anniversary of the Savar building collapse that occurred on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 in Savar Upazila, a division of Dhaka in Bangladesh, where an eight-story commercial building named Rana Plaza collapsed due to structural failure, we are reminded that it is considered the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, with 1129 loss of life, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history. This textile disaster, bought to light the appalling plight of unfair and unsafe conditions that workers were subjected to if they wanted to be employed.

While the fashion spotlight still remains on the horror of this disaster, with an additional negative tag of those factories creating fast fashion for the larger Western fashion houses¹, many positive stories of the fashion sector continue to be overshadowed with the tendency of traditional media viewing that negative stories are news and positive stories are not news at all!

Since 2013, various government and accredited agencies² have been proactive in helping to improve the structural and working conditions not only in Dhaka but in other factory areas of the RMG industry across the country. New ethical doors have opened in Bangladesh with their growth in green garment production; the creation of new textile watch-dogs; and fairer terms of trade - one such area with a focus on eye health.

I often harp on about Western countries being incredibly fortunate compared to those of underdeveloped and developing nations. Non-more-so than the various government and private health services we can tap into should we feel our health is failing. We in the West, can take work breaks with ease and divert our gaze when we became fatigued when looking at something at close quarters for too long. Those in the garment industry in Bangladesh have for the most part, worked under inadequate lighting due to poorly illuminated work areas and backup generators notoriously on the blink (I have experienced a similar textile working world without power, though enforced, while with artisan clusters in Ahmedabad, north east India, when all the generators are turned off for one day in the week to give the electricity grid a rest), or conveniently unpaid electricity bills, strict and cramped conditions, and fine finger and eye work that is repetitive, all without the chance to rest weary eyes.

"The importance of eyes to human beings is beyond description and good eyesight is indispensable for performing daily activities like communicating, working, reading, moving outside etc. However, there are many people who are affected by vision defects. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has taken an initiative to provide treatment to ready-made garment workers of Chittagong [south-east Bangladesh] who are suffering from eye diseases. The non-profit trade organisation joined hands with the Lions Club International District 315 B4, Bangladesh, to treat eye illness of the workers at affordable rates so that they can avoid the hassle of public hospitals and exorbitant charges of private hospitals.

The two organisations signed an MoU to render eye treatment, including medicine and surgery, to the 50 thousand garment workers at affordable rates. So far 12,666 workers from 55 factories have taken treatment under the 'Vision for Precision' program, which is a part of BGMEA's continuous efforts to contribute to RMG worker's welfare."

Excerpt from The Apparel Story Magazine (in-country publication); June-Sept 2016

As a new spectacular wearer at our expensive Western health system for noggin and eye testing, and the necessary evil of having to purchase eyewear after a serious accident of recent, which exacerbated my failing eyesight; and rather annoyed that at my tender young age of 40-something, I am more than a little annoyed (and if truth be told my ego is a tad dented too), that still after paying considerable respect to my health, that the value of something I've take for granted in seeing the world, only becomes apparent when there is a failing at the last moment.

Despite my grudge of this aging issue, I have been incredibly lucky to get help when I needed it for my eye health (I doubt I would be able to type this if it were not for my new four eyes). We in the West, change our careers many times, take on rigorous or relaxing hobbies that help rest the eyes in different states of use. As an ethical designer advocating fairness across all areas of the production process for our workers, I encourage you to view yourself as grateful that while good access to health is everyone's birth right, this is often not the case in developing countries where unfair trade is not even on the production radar, let alone the focus on health in the work environment. The next time you buy a product, think about the cost. If fair trade is an obvious nutritional ingredient of the label, you know that the value of the extra spend is worth the safe working conditions and health of #whomademyclothes. Quality will always be remembered long after price is forgotten.

¹The size of the global trading export market for Bangladesh in 2015 was US$26 billion.

²Known government and accredited agencies assisting the Bangladeshi garment industry create a more ethical foundation are: International Labour Organisation, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Accord), Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), United States Green Building Council, andLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED Certification).