There were five garment factories in the 8 stories commercial building called Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The building also contained apartments, banks and several shops. As soon as cracks were reported in the structure of building all the shops and banks closed immediately. However, the following day the factory owners ignored warnings and ordered their employees to report to work. The building collapsed during the morning rush hour. These factories manufactured clothing for 29 big global brands such as Mango, Gap, Primark, Walmart and Carrefour – to name a few. The victims were mostly young women.
With approximately 5000 garment factories in Bangladesh employing over 4 million people, the Ready-Made Garments industry (RMG) drives the export market and is one of the largest job creation industries in the country. Competition amongst developing countries to attract foreign direct investment for such labour intensive industries is high. As the World Bank Country Director, India Onno Ruhl explains: “Apparel manufacturing not only has a huge potential for creating jobs, particularly for the poor but also has a unique ability to attract female workers. Employed women are more likely to create positive social impacts as they tend to spend their income on the health and education of children. […]Rising costs of apparel manufacturing in China provides a window of opportunity for India to focus on apparel in productively employing its huge working-age population.”
The fashion industry alone accounts for 2% of global GDP and is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. About 75 million people work directly in the fashion and textiles industry, and about 80% of them are women. Yet the Rana Plaza disaster reminds us to look beyond numbers and quantitative measures of growth and development. We are forced to ask ourselves about the quality of employment created by the fashion industry. The EU, USA and Japan form [three-quarters of the demand]( in the global apparel industry. The apparel industry is a buyer-driven supply-chain. The big fashion houses at the top of the supply-chain have the most to gain and set the rules of the game.