The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh killed 1,100 a year ago today. The tragedy has served as a rallying cry for better labor conditions in Bangladesh and the rest of the world.
“I was really shocked by it initially,” said Devin Chesney, an employee with World Food Programme USA. “It was widely covered by media, but then disappeared quickly.”
In the aftermath, Chesney said he thought that the fault for the accident was on the companies that use the factories and the government of Bangladesh. A friend challenged his ideas, forcing him to explain why his purchase decisions were not connected to the accident. The Socratic mode of inquiry worked. Chesney soon realized that he was wrong and has a role to play as a consumer.
“There is a chain of causation that goes all the way back to the people that make it. I play a part in that at least,” he said.
That led him to take action. Chesney developed an idea to start a certification for fair trade clothing. Much like the branding that is adorned on coffee and other foods, he wants people to be able to walk into a nearby Walmart and see which clothes were made by companies who provide safe working conditions and a fare wage.
The idea to certify clothing fair trade is not new. The Fair Trade Foundation did a pilot program to determine whether it was feasible to certify clothing. The two-year effort generated little money, proving that such an endeavor would be challenging. Chesney says he took the lessons from the pilot study in setting up FairWear.