Does “fast fashion” create safety problems for employees at global supplier factories ?

An article in Bloombergbusinessweek (February 7,2013) suggests that the fast (even two week) fashion cycles at Zara, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) create stress on suppliers in Bangladesh who need to respond rapidly or lose the business. The corresponding stress shifts to employees and, the article alleges, creates conditions that compromise safety – leading to deaths due to fires. The article claims that a 10 cent extra cost per garment can improve safety if spent on fire prevention and worker protection efforts. But will such a price increase offered to manufacturers be spent appropriately on safety ? Have retailers gone too far in their focus on matching trends and should the safety consequences be rejected by consumers ? How can consumers be educated about the tradeoff ? Should regulators at retail locations demand that retailers accept global responsibility for the consequences of their “fast fashion” supply chain choices ?

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One Response to Does “fast fashion” create safety problems for employees at global supplier factories ?

  1. Praveena says:

    ‘Fast fashion’ or ‘Quick response’ in the goal of delivering quick fashion in the fastest time and in a cost efficient manner (high demand for constant product turns), seems to have many hidden costs that cannot be ignored.
    This business model aggressively pushes subcontracted factories that already have the leanest production costs to further lower prices in order to keep their contracts. Factories are forced to side lay costs related to environmental safety or long-term employee well-being in order match their production schedule with the demand.
    In addition to the safety hazards of the garments factories (fire, electrical outlets, lighting, number of exits, hygiene standards), this model also increases overtime of factory employees due to continuous, frequent demand for style changes or too many styles per design. This increases their setup times per batch and has a bullwhip effect as a consequence of which laborers have to work overtime to meet the schedule.
    These are the hidden costs of providing the widest variety of fashion possible, at the lowest cost, to a customer base that ‘doesn’t want to wait’ by suppliers who are ‘just’ responding to customer demand.
    One of the ways to ensure safe working conditions for laborers is to have ILR or other governing bodies enforce policies on the subcontractors such that safety standards and laborer working conditions as per standard are the minimum required (could vary according to the economic and social conditions of the country) to run the factory. I do not see that a price increase offered to subcontractors would be spend appropriately on increasing the safety standards unless it is enforced. The enforcement has to be on the subcontractors’ side. This will automatically have a push-back effect on the retailers.
    In addition to this, regulators at the retail locations can demand that retailers accept global responsibility for the consequences of their “fast fashion” supply chain choices. This will control their aggressiveness in pushing down the manufacturing costs of the subcontractors.
    Both the above would help improve conditions for laborers but the key enforcement as discussed above should be on the subcontractors’ side.
    One way consumers can be educated on the ‘trade offs’ of their low cost, fashion wear is by retailers / subcontractors including a small tag together with the price tag on the garment, that subtly but effectively conveys the hidden costs to the buyer.

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