Remembering Rana Plaza with a collection of wearables split in half
One decade after the garment factory disaster in Bangladesh, Fashion Revolution Week shines the light on what remains an alarming situation.
24 Apr 2023

Emelie Norberg uses her social channels to spread awareness of the importance of slow fashion, the negative aspects of fast fashion, and the benefits of shopping pre-loved clothes.

— On my Instagram and YouTube channel I share outfit ideas made entirely from secondhand or thrifted items or how to upcycle and remake old clothes, she explains.

She’s now joined forces with Fairtrade to remember Rana Plaza. The eight-story building in Bangladesh housed five garment factories. Ten years ago, on 23 April 2013, large structural cracks were discovered in the building. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed and their employees were evacuated, but the textile workers were ordered to come back the next day. 

— Those who survived have witnessed how they were afraid to enter the building but did so anyway since the managers threatened them with the loss of a month’s pay if they did not return to work, says Amira Malik Miller, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Fairtrade Sweden with a long experience of working with sustainability and human rights. On the morning of 24 April, the building collapsed leading to the death of 1.134 people, injuring over 2.500.

— Fairtrade asked me if I would like to participate in this initiative by making a collection of half clothes to represent the low wages that the fashion manufacturing workers are victims of. In Bangladesh and India, textile workers earn less than half of the living wage — it’s such an important collection for such an important cause, says Emelie Norberg. She continues:

— Since I’m all about sustainability I wanted the clothes to be wearable even though split in half, so I made a collection where all the items are cut in half one way or the other, but still wearable. The outfits are named after the models, who are also profiles or influencers within sustainability and secondhand fashion, and all clothes are made from pre-loved items and thrifted textiles. I named the collection For the women who are never seen to represent both the women working for half the minimum living wages in the textile factories, and the women working behind the scenes for secondhand and sustainable fashion. The collection is a call to action to spread the word about the campaign Good Clothes, Fair Pay and for people to sign the petition and make more sustainable fashion choices.

Good Clothes, Fair Pay, Amira Malik Miller explains, is a European Citizens’ Initiative to call on the European Commission to introduce legislation requiring that brands and retailers in the garment sector conduct specific due diligence in their supply chain to ensure workers are paid living wages. To push for this legislation we need one million signatures from EU citizens.

Today marks the start of Fashion Revolution Week, an initiative launched after Rana Plaza. What has happened since, for workers in Bangladesh and in other places?

— When it comes to the safety conditions in garment factories in Bangladesh the situation has improved. This is due to the Bangladesh Accord on fire and building safety that was signed on 15 May 2013 — a legally binding Global Framework Agreement between global brands, retailers, and trade unions. Earlier this year, a similar agreement was also concluded in Pakistan, says Malik Miller.

— Though there has been significant progress when it comes to safety conditions, the fashion industry still has serious human rights risks to address. Also, a report published by risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, says that Human Rights violations have increased in the past years. Today’s fashion industry employs about 60 million people in Asia, most of whom do not earn a living wage. Despite real wage increases in several Asian countries in recent decades, many workers still cannot afford to eat, pay for healthcare, or send their children to school. Minimum wages in India and Bangladesh, for example, are barely half of a living wage. Respect for trade union rights is also alarmingly low in several of the major textile-exporting countries. In connection with demonstrations for higher wages held in the country, both participants and trade unionists have lost their jobs. And Bangladesh is one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

What is the most crucial call to action to improve the situation?

— More than a decade has passed since the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent and address human rights abuses committed in business operations. It is quite clear that voluntary approaches alone are not enough. That is why we need strong legislation on human rights and due diligence in the global supply chains. When companies calculate the cost of production they need to include living wages in their calculations, and all of us can contact our favourite brands to let them know that we want the people who make our clothes to earn that.