It would be verging on the impossible for you to have not heard about the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse that took place this past week and cost the lives of at least 377 people. Moreover, it's difficult to ignore the anger that's currently being targeted towards one of Canada's largest clothing retailers, Joe Fresh, a Loblaw Inc. subsidiary that's currently seeking to expand into the U.S.
Along with dozens of other retailers, Joe Fresh sold clothing made at the factory where workers were paid a pitiful $37 a month. Not an hour, not a day, not even a week. A month. Obviously this has irked some shoppers and, as a result, Joe Fresh has faced a scathing backlash from Canadian consumers. Just browsing its Facebook page reveals all manner of irate comments:
"Because of this tragedy, I discovered that $37/month was the going wage for the workers in your building… It makes me sick to my stomach that I was party to this by buying from you. You may be listening, but will you change anything? Doubt it," wrote Melissa Thibodeau.
"I am considering bagging up all our Joe branded clothing (shoes, coats, etc) and dropping them off at my local store. This is the only brand I buy new & often but my eyes have been opened to how close to home unethical practices are. 'Hot new trends' are not worth deathly-cruel workplaces. Change," demands Monica Poitras.
But before we join the crowds of pitchfork wielding villagers, shouldn't consumers honestly question their own ignorance at not knowing how a shirt can be produced for $6? You know that cheap cotton garment you'll maybe wear for one season before it ends up fading and getting tossed alongside your locally-sourced, organic farmer's market carrots. Joe Fresh is taking the full force of public anger right now, but are they alone in their exploitation of cheap labour? Should it even be called "exploitation" when Bangladesh relies heavily on fabric production to boost its economy?
There are many questions to be asked and, as we quickly become more socially conscious consumers, you're probably wondering how you can help in preventing disasters like this from happening again and provoke safer working conditions. Maybe you think buying "Made in Canada" goods is the answer, but MSN's Style Swept recently wrote a very interesting post about how the "Made In Canada" label can be added through a variety of legal loopholes, i.e. sewing on a few buttons in Burlington can warrant the home country label. Then, as I already mentioned, moving production away from countries like Bangladesh and China can be even more detrimental.
It's a Catch 22 situation. In a statement released over the weekend, Loblaws says it's sending senior representatives to Bangladesh to get a precise response on what caused the tragedy. Today the company is also joining other retailers and the Retail Council of Canada in an urgent meeting of its Responsible Trade Committee to discuss how to address this unfortunate situation and be a part of the solution.
They are far from the only guilty party, but it seems Joe Fresh is flying into crisis mode and, though they don't have immediate answers, the company is at least taking steps to drive for change. To that end, do you think this tragedy will influence your shopping habits going forward?
Image via Joe Fresh