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Rana Plaza Anniversary: Can Beauty & Hardship Coexist?


My boxes and lines used to be a lot cleaner. The good stuff in life fits in one space. The bad stuff goes over there. The two do not overlap. You finish one before dealing with the other. But I’m finding that they often intermingle. Beauty and hardship coexist on many fronts.

For probably all of us in the Fair Trade world, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster on April 23, 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has us pretty somber this week.

1138 people who should not have lost their lives. 1138 families without a breadwinner. When they were already struggling to feed their families in a developing nation.

Could beauty and hardship coexist here? It seems impossible.

The fact that this happened should upset us. We should be deeply disturbed that buildings aren’t stable. We should be deeply disturbed that workers begged not to go inside because of structural problems discovered the day before. And their managers demanded they report to work.

To summarize, what this event highlighted was unsafe and unfair working conditions around the world. It forced brands to take some semblance of action and be more transparent about their suppliers, to respond and create accountability measures. It made us all notice that our clothes are made by real people, with real-life problems, in real-life danger.

In light of this, we can be glad that some lessons were learned. We also mourn such painful lessons.

Does this mean that the problem is fixed?

Unfortunately, the problems continue. The world is not fixed, and our clothing makers still don’t have proper treatment in many cases. Most brands don’t tell us (or don’t even know) who made our clothes and how they were treated. Though Bangladesh recently raised their minimum wage, that pay is not enough to live on

Good things ARE happening.

Groups like Clean Clothes Campaign and Fashion Revolution are reminding us to ask #whomademyclothes? this week. And every week, for that matter.

I believe there is always hope. In the midst of remembering this loss and the myriad of problems that remain, there is hope that we are still talking about it. That we can each take some steps and eventually create a world safe and fair for all.

The hope is also that everyone can have a seat at the table. This is why we press on in Fair Trade.

Though it will not come without cost and without work, resolving that people matter above profits is worthy and important work. Adding beauty when we purchase fairly traded products is our part.

Please join us! Start asking questions like #whomademyclothes? and #whogrewmyfood?

Then find and support brands who can demonstrate that they care with ACTION to ensure workers are paid and treated with dignity. We share as many as we can too.

Your choices matter. Though hardship and beauty do coexist, let’s be the people who go with beauty in our shopping and lifestyle choices.



 Hey! I'm Katy Penner, Founder and Content Strategist. I love to eat outdoors, travel and meet Fair Trade artisans, and run occasional 10k races. 

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