Ten years on from Rana Plaza tragedy: 9 in 10 Australians consider the safety of garment workers as important when purchasing clothing

Campaigns and Advocacy, Economic Justice article written on the 24 Apr 2023

Oxfam Australia is marking the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy by calling on Australian brands to do more to protect the rights of garment workers; as a new Oxfam survey found 9 in 10 (88%) of Australians rate the safety of garment workers as important when buying clothes.   

The collapse of the eight-story building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was the deadliest garment factory disaster in history, claiming the lives of 1,134 people and injuring more than 2,500.  

The tragedy was a wake-up call for the world, and a stark alert of the unsafe and inhumane working conditions that many garment workers endure in order to produce clothes for the insatiable global fashion industry. 

The new polling by Oxfam Australia conducted by YouGov of 1,023 Australian clothes buyers has shown that, in the context of the disaster, an overwhelming 9 in 10 (88%) of respondents believe it is essential to consider the safety of garment workers when purchasing clothing, highlighting the impact the Rana Plaza tragedy has had on consumers’ purchasing habits ten years on. 

 According to the poll, the significance of ethical considerations in the fashion industry is prevalent and on the rise in Australia:  

  • An overwhelming 65% of clothing buyers actively taking into account ethical factors when making a purchase.
  • Nearly one-third of clothes buyers explicitly consider the human rights of garment workers in their purchasing decisions. 
  • Younger generations such as Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X are far more likely to claim ethical consciousness when it comes to purchasing clothing, with over half of each generation likely to make ethical considerations when buying clothes, compared to just 35% of Baby Boomers. 

Garment workers in Bangladesh earn as little as $75 a month and are often working in dangerous and exploitative conditions. Poor conditions are also reported by garment workers in China, Vietnam and India; where over 80% of Australian clothing is produced.  

Oxfam Australia’s Economic Justice Lead Nayeem Emran is calling on Australian clothing brands to respond to the calls of industry leaders and consumers alike, and speed up the process of protecting garment workers’ rights.

“These survey results demonstrate that Australian consumers are increasingly mindful of the ethical impact of their purchasing decisions, and fashion brands must address these concerns to remain relevant in the market,” said Emran, who has just returned from Bangladesh where he met with garment workers. 

“Ten years after the Rana Plaza tragedy, though progress had been made though the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, it is deeply disappointing to see brands like Best and Less refusing to sign. Equally disappointing is the lack of progression being made in improving the wages of garment workers,” said Emran. 

“We know there is a growing concern among consumers for ethical fashion, proving that the Rana Plaza tragedy has not been forgotten. The Rana Plaza disaster was a wake-up call, and consumers’ demands for transparency and accountability in the fashion industry will continue to increase in the years to come,” said Emran. 

Survivor of the Rana Plaza collapse, Nilufa Yesmin, suffered a spinal injury from the incident and has not been able to work since due to her injury.  

“I see darkness in the future, I cannot work in a garment factory again. As my days are passing, I am suffering from sickness,” said Ms Yesmin. “Now, no garment factory takes me, they say I am injured from Rana Plaza and I cannot work.” 

“Those who buy clothes from Bangladesh and wear them, I want to tell them that, the workers are not paid equally, compared to the work. But workers have the right to get a fair wage from owners and should never be harassed. And they should get a fair wage,” said Ms Yesmin.  

Oxfam Australia is calling on Australian brands to take immediate action to improve the conditions of garment workers.  

“Australian brands have a responsibility to ensure that the clothes they sell are made in safe and fair conditions. This means paying workers a living wage, providing safe working conditions, signing the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, and respecting workers’ rights to unionise and bargain collectively,” continued Emran. 

“It is unacceptable that many workers are still being working in unsafe and inhumane conditions, while brands and retailers continue to profit from their labor.”  

“We cannot afford to wait another ten years for change to happen. Clothing brands must take responsibility for the conditions under which their clothes are made, and work to ensure that every worker in their supply chain is treated with dignity and respect,” concluded Emran.  

For interviews, contact Lucy Brown on 0478 190 099/ lucyb@oxfam.org.au