Outrageously Cheap

The comedian John Oliver delivered a well-researched and expertly-executed tirade about the dangerous—and morally questionable—implications of outrageously cheap clothing on his HBO show Last Week Tonight:

“One of the biggest problems with holding many brands accountable, is that deniability seems to have been stitched into the supply chain,” says Oliver, referring to the chronic issue of unauthorized subcontracting: Clothing brands work directly with presumably safe, audited factories, which then outsource production to less regulated, off-the-map facilities. Then, when disaster strikes, Western brands can say that they had no knowledge of the subcontracting relationship.

“Clothing brands are losing the right to act surprised,” says Oliver. “They’re like the characters in The Hangover movies. It’s not an accident the third time, boys—it’s a pattern of reckless behavior which has to be addressed.”

Oliver’s piece comes at the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory complex collapse outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,130 people, most of them women garment workers.

The world was justifiably horrified by that tragedy. And yet, as Oliver points out, it wasn’t long before daytime TV shows were again extolling the wonders of a cheap knockoff blouse, by the same brand that had produced clothes in those deadly factory conditions.

“Nineteen bucks! Get out! Get out. Get the fuck out of the studio and think about what you’re doing,” he says. “We get so blinded by low prices.”

Another Bangladesh Tragedy

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Our thoughts today go out Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is dreadful that governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations’ shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers, companies and consumers act to stop these scandalous human tragedies? Shame on you The Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Primark, New Wave Style, Ether Tex, Canton Tech Apparel and New Wave Bottoms. Since 2005, more than 700 garment workers have died in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.