Last night’s Panorama was particularly horrible and even now I am still thinking about it. I usually watch the programme on Monday nights because of the content and also for shorthand practice, but this episode stood out to me for some reason.
Panorama investigates how our clothes – including those of some big high street brands – are really made. It finds evidence of shocking working conditions and an industry that still puts profit before safety. More than a thousand garment workers died when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in April. But reporter Richard Bilton discovers people working 19 hour days, security guards who lock in the workers and factory owners who hide the truth from western retailers.
Although focusing on a topic that is already well-known among consumers, just continually ignored, it was shocking to have the extent of the problem highlighted in the investigation. Hearing in detail about the Rana Plaza collapse and how the workers had been locked in and unable to escape was both tragic and sickening at the same time.
It became worse as the investigators discovered that locking the workers in was in fact common practice, as was forcing them to work 13 hour shifts without a break and countless hours of overtime that was never officially clocked, nor were they paid enough to justify it.
The treatment of these workers is criminal and horrific to see, but it still doesn’t stop them from going to work because they are trapped in the never-ending cycle of poverty that keeps them coming back to earn a pittance that barely covers their rent or bills.
Sadly, it also fails to stop the majority of shoppers, myself included, from buying the items made in these sweatshops. Despite knowledge of these practices – why is it still so easy to forget when faced with that new item from Topshop or Primark?
I am as guilty as anyone of this.
But it certainly gets me thinking about what my life would have been like, had I been born in Mauritius and raised there instead of in the UK – I could have been scraping buy on pennies earned on 13-hour shifts in factories instead of working for a newspaper and educated in a university. Amazing really. Essentially the difference between Third World Problems and First World Problems.