Reshma soon married, but divorced her husband after he beat her and stole her hard-earned wages. Life was not easy but she was happy to have work. Her job gave her independence and security. In April Reshma found a job at New Wave Bottoms, a garment factory on the second floor of Rana Plaza - the ill-fated building that collapsed on Wednesday 24 April, killing 1127 people.
Chaos erupted on the streets of Dhaka, and the cries of those trapped echoed around the world. The wealthy western masses looked on, some horrified, many apathetic. Rescuers began to pull out survivors who told of the horror of being inside the building. But as the days went by fewer living souls were pulled from the wreckage. Family members held vigil outside the factory, some weeping, and many clutching photographs in the hope they would find their loved ones alive – or at least be able to identify the bodies in order to give them a proper burial.
17 days after the collapse rescuers pulled Reshma's nearly lifeless frame from the rubble. Severely dehydrated, exhausted and spent, Reshma's first words gave her family hope: 'Brother, don't weep'. Her family rejoiced and began to prepare for her homecoming – instead of her funeral. Reshma Begum was the last person to be discovered alive in the Rana Plaza wreck.
The exploitation of the poor
The disastrous collapse of Rana Plaza highlights the greed of those who are exploiting workers to provide cheap clothes for the rich. The biblical book of Proverbs teaches that 'whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.'
Have I been oppressing the poor with my fashion choices? While I am not directly responsible for the factory collapse in Bangladesh my desire for cheap clothing has fuelled the greed of those who are.
I love clothes. Pretty dresses, beautiful blouses, cute tops, flattering trousers…I love them all. I like to read fashion blogs, and come awards season I am addicted to red carpet best and worst dressed lists. I am one of many consumers who are aware of the realities of the garment making industry, and choose to ignore them.
The news of the factory collapse sent me to my closet to see where my clothes are made: China, Bangladesh and Thailand. I did some brief research online to see if there was any information about the working conditions and pay of those who create clothes for my favourite brands. What did I find? Nada. Nothing. Not one bit of information in relation to the source of my clothing.
Inspired by faith
Inspired by his faith, social reformer William Wilberforce steered a movement of people who eventually brought down the slave trade in England. The Abolition Movement led a campaign which encouraged people to give up sugar to protest the cruel treatment and sometimes murder of slaves who were forced to process it. This campaign was so successful it caused a significant drop in sugar sales and forced the issue into the public eye.
These days we can find out whether bacon was farmed or caged. We can buy chocolate boasting a fair trade guarantee. So why not label clothes in a similar way? I would prefer to support clothing outlets that ensure factory workers are well paid and taken care of. Women like Reshma have greatly benefitted from the opportunity to work and they do not deserve to be ruthlessly exploited. I aim to write to my favourite stores to encourage them to be more transparent about their garment construction and I encourage you to do the same.
Will this response change the world? Probably not. Is this the only social issue which requires our attention, concern and action? Of course not! By contributing to a system which actively exploits the poor I know I am showing contempt for the physical and spiritual riches God has given me. It is not the world I want to change – it's me.
Sophia Sinclair is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. After studying, working and training in Theatre, English Literature and Journalism, she joined the non-profit sector to work for the Anglican mission organisation NZCMS where she promotes mission around New Zealand. For more information on NZCMS: www.nzcms.org.nz
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html