UK Consumers for an Ethical High-Street

Many of us here in the UK pay little attention to where our clothes are made, who manufactures them and what sorts of conditions those workers are forced to endure. Shopping for clothes is a necessity and often a pastime, but rarely do we pause for thought and consider the impact of our habits and the practice of retailers on the millions of people worldwide employed in garment manufacturing.

This April the Rana Plaza tragedy served as a shocking awakening to the conditions in which the clothes that fill high street stores in the UK are often produced. The Rana Plaza, an eight story garment-factory in Dhaka, collapsed killing more than 1,100 people. The horrific images of the disintegrated factory and the devastating impact on human life were a terrible reminder of the risk that millions of people in the developing world face simply by going to work.

The sight of such images compels us to find out what we can do to help keep safe those who make many of the garments we purchase. This week, a cross-party group of MPs have published a report on a trip they made to Bangladesh. Low wages were found to be accompanied by poor conditions, highlighted by a string of factory accidents. Poor planning and building controls make a repeat of the tragic event at Rana Plaza unjustifiably likely.

A decent wage and safe working conditions are a must and it is the responsibility of retailers and consumers to make our high streets more ethical places. This is why I am supporting the Trades Union Congress’ campaign to improve workers’ safety in Bangladesh and elsewhere by encouraging high street clothing retailers to respond to consumer pressure and sign up to an accord which will fund an independent health and safety inspection body for Bangladeshi factories.

The Accord commits companies to fund an independent safety inspection body that will involve workers, through their unions, and make long term deals with suppliers, offering more secure employment, funding factory inspections and training to improve safety. More than 100 retailers and brands, including Marks and Spencer, Primark, Next and Arcadia have already signed up. However, other chains have failed to sign up and I would encourage people to join me in signing the TUC’s petition to demand the remaining retailers join the accord.

The tragedy that Rana Plaza represents serves as a great motivation to seize the moment and put pressure on retailers to forge a new, international approach to help ensure that the workers who supply our high streets are employed in safe conditions. Being able to go to work in decent conditions, free from unnecessary dangers is the least anybody should expect. Here in East Durham we can all play our part in making that happen.

Sign the petition at www.goingtowork.org.uk