Anyone see the headlines...yeah me niether

In the last five years, and in recent months, numerous tragedies should have gotten, and should still be getting, some attention....anyone ever heard of the Spectrum/Shahriyar Sweater Factory, how about Garib & Garib Sweater factory or the PT Mulia Knitting Factory? Well maybe someone has heard of H&M, Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger and up to a dozen other major labels. If you wear designer labels have recent, or on going events affected your support of the brands? It's doubtful most folks even caught a hint of these stories; the designers have certainly never mentioned anything about them. It's staggering how many lives are lost in the name of profit that never make the news in the markets where the goods they "died for" are rabidly consumed.

Five years ago on April 11th the Spectrum/Shahriyar factory collapsed, killing 65 workers. February 25th of this year a fire raged through Garib & Garib in Gazipur, Bangladesh killing 21 employees. This was the second fire in sixth months, and even after previous evacuations people died because barred windows and locked exits kept them in the flames and choking smoke. H&M one of the major customers of Garib & Garib has denied any responsibility to the victims' families, and reported that the factory passed a safety audit as recently as October of 2009. Survivors of the fire, however, clearly paint a picture of perilous practices like locked doors and barred exits being the daily norm. The integrity of sporadic audits have long been criticized in the absence of strong union representation that has the support of management.

The Bangladeshi garment industry is notorious for its bad safety record. Within a year of the Spectrum collapse around 65 workers in KTS Textiles and Sayem Fashions lost their lives. Two weeks after the Garib & Garib fire another worker lost her life in yet another factory, Matrix Sweater. Between 2005 and 2010, at least 172 workers were killed. Most of the victims were producing clothes for well-known international brands when they died.

The PT Mulia Knitting Factory just outside Jakarta, Indonesia is currently at the center of organized labor's and ethical clothing's roaming gaze. Similar conditions exist that led to the fire in Gazipur, and despite the urging of trade union supporters and advocacy groups the factory's owners remain staunchly opposed to "opening the doors" to more ethical and transparent operations. Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, two of the factory's largest customers, have not used their leverage to push for change despite strong prodding from labor groups.

So, in this moment the power lies in the hands of the one holding the wallet at the register. Shopping with a conscience that informs what we buy and from whom, communicates more loudly and powerfully than any laborer's rights advocacy group could ever dream to accomplish. Partner with those groups that raise the awareness, and give them the voice of your buying power. Please join this international campaign to encourage designers to take more responsibility in the manufacturing of their designs.

Statistically, 80% of the 21 deaths in the Garib & Garib fire were young mothers of multiple children, and possibly the only source of income to their immediate household and probably to extended family as well. It's not unrealistic that after the fire hundreds of people from infants to the elderly were left with not just loss, but real hopelessness.

Those victims' families warrant a conscience at the register. Honor the lost. Buy for the future of the already marginalized, and together let's quit being given what we are told we want, and start demanding we get what is fair, right and ethical for all.

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