While we celebrated with barbecues and hot dogs on Saturday, on the other side of the world in Wenling, China yet another factory collapse occurred. At first, officials recorded six casualties, but now the death toll is up to fourteen. Around forty were injured.
This tragedy happened only about a month and a half after one of the deadliest factory fires in the Philippines. And in the past three years alone, some of the deadliest factory fires and collapses since the Triangle Fire in 1911 have occurred. These include the Tazreen Fire, which resulted in over one hundred casualties, and the Rana Plaza Factory collapse, which resulted in over one thousand casualties. Though many companies signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord, a five-year agreement which includes factory inspections and renovations financed by the brands and fair and adequate pricing, in response to Rana Plaza, clearly the problem of unsafe garment factories and poor working conditions stems beyond Dhaka.
According to Wenling's tourism office, one in five pairs of shoes available worldwide originates there, which means that shoe factories are abundant. However, the working conditions are often less than ideal. Just last January a shoe factory fire in Wenling killed sixteen. Though the collapse that happened on Saturday is still under investigation, some think that it may have been caused by a large fishing pool on the roof of the factory, as some employees reported that there was leaking water before the building gave way.
As these tragedies continue to occur we question how we can support fair production and reduce unsafe factory conditions. Consumers can support brands that produce ethically and stand up for what they believe in. Companies can take a more hands-on approach to their factories, personally visit them instead of relying on audits, and financially invest in them. Governments can enforce laws instead of avoiding them and support workers and unions. Though these are just a few potential solutions and the chance of them all happening on a large scale are slim, changing the fashion industry is a journey with many moving pieces, and taking whatever action you can is a small step in the right direction.
Moral of the Story: Poor factory conditions occur all over the world, and it's up to us to fight for change. Invest in positive change with your purchasing patterns.