Nation's Largest Fair Trade Retailer Weighs In On Garment Factory Collapse in Bangladesh

A call for consumers to exercise their purchasing power.

As the death toll from the garment factory building collapse near Dhaka, Bangladesh reaches 900, American consumers should be asking themselves this very important question: “Where do the goods I purchase come from?”

This Saturday, May 11, is World Fair Trade Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness about how our purchases have the potential to profoundly impact the lives of women and men in developing countries.

What happened in Bangladesh does not have to happen again. Retail giants in the U.S. who place large orders with suppliers, such as the factories in the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, have a choice. They could choose to purchase their goods from producers who follow fair business practices, and monitor working conditions to ensure safety. But instead, as we have recently learned from this tragedy, in the interest of lower prices, many of them turn a blind eye to the working conditions within the factories where their products are made. And when they do, tragic things can and do happen.

This kind of manufacturing seems to fly in the face of humanity, and now, has come at a deadly cost.

Fair trade is defined by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) as “a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” As the nation’s oldest and largest fair trade retailer, we at Ten Thousand Villages are rooted in a mission to provide sustainable, fair income to women and men in developing nations. We build relationships with the artisan organizations that make the handcrafted products we sell. We follow the 10 principles of fair trade, as outlined by the WFTO, one of which is to ensure good working conditions. It’s what we’ve been doing for 65 years.

American consumers have a choice when buying goods. They can support the retailers who purchase their products blindly based on costs, or they can look for opportunities to purchase products that have been manufactured and purchased responsibly, like those at Ten Thousand Villages and other fair trade retailers.

So, the next time you are standing in front of a table of colorful $20 shorts, you should remember the factory in Dhaka…and the owner who forced his workers to enter the building knowing full well that the structure had visible cracks and was unsafe. American consumers will pay $20 for those Joe Fresh shorts, the tags visible in the rubble after the building collapse; meanwhile, the men and women who earned little more than $38 a month to make those shorts, according to a May 8 story in The Huffington Post, paid the ultimate price. As Americans, we know this is unacceptable…and it should make us stop and think about where we choose to spend our money.

I recently heard someone ask “how can we prevent [the building collapse in Bangladesh] from happening?” I say, it comes down to basic economics: supply and demand. Demand a fair supply chain from your retailers. Ask them where their merchandise comes from. Embrace fair trade, and seek out retailers who proudly embrace those principles. (Visit for a list of those principles.)

We grieve an economic system that insists on the cheapest possible production, at the price of human dignity, safety, and life itself. As we prepare to acknowledge World Fair Trade Day again this year, my wish is that one day in the not so distant future, all retailers will practice the principles of fair trade. On Saturday, I encourage you to shop responsibly. Seek out the fair trade retailers in your area, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. Together, over time, we can put an end to this kind of irresponsible manufacturing. As consumers you do have a voice….a powerful one, at that. I encourage you to exercise your power the next time you shop by purchasing products that are produced by people who are treated fairly.

My heart breaks for the men and women of Dhaka who lost their lives so abruptly, so tragically, and so unnecessarily. Please join me in exercising your power to make a difference by shopping fair trade. For a list of organizations that support fair trade, visit the Fair Trade Federation’s website at

-Pam Raffensberger

Chief Executive Officer, Ten Thousand Villages

(717) 859-8149 (O)

(717) 875-4087 (M)


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