Dawn Eyre, Lecturer in Fashion at Birmingham City University

As a fashion designer who has worked in the industry for fifteen years, it always saddens me to hear of the awful and tragic incidents that occur, such as the collapse of a building in Bangladesh and just recently in Mumbai, as a result of unsafe and illegal building construction.

The garment industry is big business in India and makes a huge amount of money. Competition is high and consumer demand for cheaper and more affordable clothing has put pressure on retailers and suppliers to fulfill this need. Cheaper ways of manufacture have to be found to ensure profits are made, no matter how small they are. The question is though, at what cost does this come at?

While factories are audited to ensure that the correct working practices are adhered to, it does not include the safety of a building. Having traveled to India, (New Delhi and Bangalore) on many occasions for work visiting suppliers and factories, not once did I witness any unethical practices or poor working conditions. However, this is not to say that the use of unethical practices are used and incidents have been highlighted within the media on many occasions.

Due to the mounting pressure that has been put on clothing retailers, companies such as Topshop and Primark have recently signed up to the new Factory Safety Deal. This deal ensures better protection for workers and compensation for families who have been affected by the recent building collapses in India. Through signing factory safety deals, it sends out a positive message to the consumer and shows that retailers care about how and where there garments are made.  Taking responsibility and using independent inspectors shows a commitment to this problem. Those retailers that have refused to sign the deal could be perceived as not caring which could affect their public profile and customer confidence.

Regular inspections and spot checks both internally and independently should help to keep tighter controls alongside effective communication between retailers and suppliers. This is an ongoing commitment for both retailer and supplier. Working together with the government and newly formed unions should give the workers more protection and better working conditions. Although this a positive move towards a safer working environment, it will take time to put processes into place.

The concern now is, how quickly can these factory safety deals be implemented?

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