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The True Cost of Cheap Clothes
Air Date: 05/13/2013
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The True Cost of Cheap Clothes

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:

Some big clothing makers are signing on tonight to a legally binding plan to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh in the wake of the horrifying factory collapse there. That disaster serving as a wake-up call for big business and people here in the U.S. who love cheap clothing and lots of it, and don’t always think of the conditions where it’s made. Our report tonight from NBC’s Stephanie Gosk.

STEPHANIE GOSK, reporting:

For nearly three weeks, the death toll from the clothing factory in Bangladesh has been rising. Now the search for bodies is over. More than 1,100 workers have died. There will be no more miracle rescues. A tragedy so large in scope it is already changing a global industry. Today retailers including Zara and H&M signed an agreement drafted by labor rights groups to help pay for fire and safety renovations in any Bangladesh facility that makes their clothes. Neither Zara nor H&M--the company that manufactures the most clothing in Bangladesh did business with the factory that collapsed. But each has been linked to separate deadly factory fires.

SCOTT NOVA (Worker Right Consortium): I think companies look out in the current landscape and understand that the cost of their reputation of not signing this agreement is far greater than the financial cost of participating in the agreement.

GOSK: Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world.

(Woman speaking foreign language)

GOSK: Today workers told NBC News, they just want to be able to work in a safe environment. Four million people, most of them women, work in roughly 5,000 factories for about $37 a month. Sixty percent of what is made ends up in Europe and the U.S. at popular stores like the Gap, Walmart, and JCPenney. Americans buy twice as many items of clothing a year as they did 20 years ago. Stores offer up rapidly shifting styles at increasingly lower prices. Like fast-food we now shop for fast fashion. Insatiable demand for a product made halfway around the world in conditions most customers aren’t aware of. Journalist Elizabeth Cline posed as a clothing buyer in Bangladesh for her book Over-Dressed.

ELIZABETH CLINE: Do we really need all this clothing and do we really want to take responsibility for all the hidden environmental and economic costs associated with this cheap fashion habit.

GOSK: With the rubble still being cleared, customers and companies alike are taking a new look at the real cost of cheap clothes. Stephanie Gosk, NBC news, New York.