by Riccardo Rossella, Advocacy, Education and Campaigns Area

April 24, 2013 marks an indelible date for the fashion industry. On the western outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza building undergoes structural failure, collapsing on itself. 1,133 people lose their lives in the collapse, over 2,500 are injured. Most of them were male and female workers in the textile industry: the eight-storey building housed several factories that made clothing products for big Western brands, including Benetton, Inditex (a group that owns brands such as Zara, Bershka and Pull and Bear) and Primark.

The tragedy takes on an even more bitter taste when you consider that it could have been easily avoided. Indeed, just the day before the collapse, alarming cracks were found inside the building during an inspection, which led the inspectors to ask for its immediate evacuation and closure. A warning ignored by the owners of the textile factories.

What happened turned the spotlight on the problem of conditions of extreme precariousness and insecurity of those who work in the factories in the South of the world that produce our clothes. A first tangible step forward was the “Agreement for Fire Prevention and Building Safety in Bangladesh”. Signed by the main trade unions and by over 200 clothing brands, it has allowed, at least so far, to raise the level of attention and reduce some of the most recurrent risks.

The global Fashion Revolution movement originated from the rubble of the Rana Plaza, which calls for a profound change in the fashion industry based on greater transparency along the production chains and the improvement of the conditions of the workers who are part of it. The movement has its maximum visibility on the occasion of the Fashion Revolution Week which, once a year, around April 24, brings together millions of activists, citizens and consumers around the world to ask the brands in the sector for greater transparency and greater responsibility, through the iconic hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes?.

This year the appointment takes on even greater relevance since the clothing sector is facing a crisis whose consequences are increasingly dramatic. The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 is in fact paralyzing a global supply chain characterized by high complexity, fragmentation and interdependence. The suspension of activities in factories, first in China and then in the rest of the world, including Italy, combined with the subsequent closure of physical stores, is causing a real chain disaster. While consumer purchases collapse, brands find themselves dealing with warehouses bursting with unsold items and the impossibility of planning the next collections.

A crisis that is thus affecting the entire fashion industry, without exception, but whose most serious repercussions fall, once again, on the shoulders of the most vulnerable categories. This is the case, for example, of independent artisans and stylists, who have a lower ability to withstand the economic shock, or of employees of major brands in Europe and the United States, forced to layoff. In the global South, the suspension of orders from rich countries is compromising the existence of hundreds of thousands of “bosses”, already normally forced to operate with tight margins and prohibitive delivery times.

In some cases the big brands are also refusing to receive and pay for orders already placed weeks or months ago, now ready for delivery. All this, combined with the “lockdown” imposed in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Myanmar, is causing millions of male and female workers to be left at home without a salary and without access to forms of social protection. On the other hand, it is no better in those cases in which factories and workshops continue to remain open, given that the absence or insufficiency of the necessary protection measures exposes workers to a very high risk of contagion.

The Coronavirus emergency is making explicit all the distortions of a model of design, creation and consumption that is structurally unsustainable, in which the increasingly frenetic purchase of new clothing is offset by the exploitation of millions of people, especially women and children, and a huge environmental impact. The need to start a real Fashion Revolution, which goes beyond slogans and takes shape in the way of thinking and putting into practice fashion, appears more urgent than ever.

Mani Tese has been fighting for this cause for decades and, starting next revolutionary week, will do everything to make the crisis we are experiencing turn into an opportunity that everyone is talking about but which, unfortunately, too few still want to take on board.

To find out more about Mani Tese’s commitment to promoting new business models that respect the environment and human rights, visit the MADE IN JUSTICE page: https://www.manitese.it/en/made-in-justice

To discover the CHANGE FASHION! Project, aimed at raising awareness on the impacts of the fast fashion system, visit the project page: https://www.manitese.it/project/en/change-fashion

For more information and materials on Fashion Revolution Week 2020: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/resources/free-downloads/

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