Just over two years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Dhaka, a hard-hitting new documentary examines the true cost of the business of cheap fashion.
Appropriately-titled ‘The True Cost’, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last week and is guaranteed to make you think twice about that ridiculously cheap £3 t-shirt down Oxford Street.
The film, by American filmmaker Andrew Morgan, was financed wholly through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter and explores the entire process of creating cheap fashion – from the underpaid and exploited factory workers in Bangladesh to the Western consumers who buy clothes that are so cheap that they are often considered “disposable” after a couple of trips on the school run or jaunts to the pub.
Morgan says he had little inclination about the fashion industry until the Rana Plaza collapse – one of the worst industrial disasters in history – which left more than 1100 people dead.
The incident, Morgan says, made him question for the first time how his clothing was made. What he found out was heartbreaking.
The film follows a 23-year-old Bangladeshi garment factory worker named Shima, who made the equivalent of £6 a month when first on the job. In an attempt to improve the factory’s unsafe working conditions and earn a living wage, she and several other workers started a union.
When they gave the factory owner their list of demands, they were severely beaten.
Morgan delves into the often dangerous conditions workers find themselves in on a daily basis – from the chemical-ridden air they breathe to the structurally unsafe buildings they work in.
“When I hear a phrase like ‘environmental damage,’ it’s like that still is in the category of a very esoteric, far off someday [thing],” Morgan said.
“To be in those places and to realize that’s actually [the] impact that’s being felt by real human beings today… that was jarring.”
Morgan says that companies such as Primark, H&M and others are not solely to blame.
“I don’t want to put all the blame on the back of fast fashion.
“The fashion industry did not invent a very irresponsible way of manufacturing; it did not invent over-marketing the consumption of things. … It just came in and took it about as far as we could possibly go.”
Alarmingly, ‘The True Cost’ explores how, despite various concessions towards safer working conditions and better pay for garment factory workers by leading international retailers, little has changed on the ground.