The deadliest garment industry disaster in history, five years later
24 April 2018
GQ reached out to Anner [director of the Center for Global Workers' Rights at Penn State University] to talk about the report, and to hear about what has changed for workers in Bangladesh’s garment factories since—and what has stayed the same.
GQ: What is the biggest change you've seen in Bangladeshi worker conditions since Rana Plaza?
Mark Anner: Five years later, we can say it's far safer to be a garment worker in Bangladesh, and what I emphasize in the report is the achievements in the area of building safety. But I'm not saying it's now safe. Not all buildings are covered by the process, things can still happen, but relative to five years ago it is far safer to be a garment worker in Bangladesh now.
GQ: What struck me about the report is that we're seeing all these improvements in building safety, but poor pay and working conditions are still prevalent. What are the forces that are preventing meaningful change to bleed over into those areas as well?
Anner: I see two dynamics in particular, what I call the “price squeeze” and the “lead-time squeeze,” and that starts at the top of supply chains. First is the price squeeze. If you came and made a shirt for a three-dollar price point last season, there's going to be pressure for you to do it at $2.95 this season... The pressure to not increase wages becomes very strong. And along with that is an increase in work intensity. Where I don't think the conversation [should] go is to say all these problems we're talking about are the result of consumer pressure for low prices. Consumers want low prices, of course, that's true, but we've had deflation in apparel: Prices have actually gone down. That's companies competing with each other and trying to sell more inventory than it can handle.
GQ: Are there red flags I should be looking out for to be a more conscious consumer?
Anner: The very first red flag is a lack of transparency. If a brand refuses to post their suppliers, that would be the biggest red flag of all.