A verbatim theatre piece performed Sunday the 24th April provided a striking snapshot into the tragedy of those involved in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza Collapse three years ago.

The Rana Plaza Collapse on the 24th of April 2013, caused by the negligence of officials and lack of proper conditions for workers creating ‘fast fashion’, killed thousands and left many more injured. The third commemoration of the collapse involved a piece of street theatre depicting the stories of those involved in the collapse. I spoke to those involved with the production and performance of this piece.

Why do this performance?

The point of theatre is making art for the community that can be accessible, especially at a personal level. A story such as this needs to be made accessible and prominent so it can raise awareness. Many of the actors came in not knowing much about the collapse – it was only while doing background research, rehearsing and reading the script, that they were able to find out and raise awareness.

As pointed out by one of the actors, sweatshops are a constant and ever-present problem in Bangladesh and other countries, and because it happens all the time it tends to fade into the background. What made Rana Plaza so impactful was that it was huge, thus making us look at the bigger picture and allows us to better recognise and memorialise these kinds of events. Another said, “acting in the play, you really feel the pain and when shopping it will stick because you’ve felt and witnessed the suffering”.

For many of the actors, awareness and change is what they’re hoping to get out of the performance.

What do you think are the underlying causes of this event?

The cause of this event is not mainly about consumers, but about the wider structure involved with sweatshops and fast fashion. It is also not only about simply boycotting sweatshops because people need those jobs. It is about workers’ conditions – we look at Rana Plaza and think it can’t happen again but it is still happening in other places, like India and Cambodia, where these workers’ rights aren’t being protected.

What is the role of the consumer?

As Fia Hamid-Walker, co-creator of the piece, points out, “consumers have a lot of power”. We can care, and raise awareness. We can care about what we wear, we can ask those responsible to be held accountable. We can contact our local MPs, those with more power and can set guidelines about importing overseas and using labour overseas. It is about highlighting that we as consumers are willing to pay five or 10 dollars more if we can, and if it means that workers are safe and can afford a living wage. One of the actors pointed out that though there is a long distance between consumers and the sweatshop workers, consumers can still play a part by just being aware and thinking about what they’re buying.

A big part of this, according to the director is also consumer guilt, wherein consumers feel helpless and guilty in the face of an event such as this, which companies play on. The point of this piece was not to target and attack people or make consumers feel guilty. Instead, the aim was to remind people and build dialogue, especially with brands and distributors who should make sure the people under them are taken care of and safe.

 

There’s many ways that people can help even if it is something as simple as using apps such as ‘Shop Ethical’, and websites such as ethicalconsumer.org and thegoodshoppingguide.com

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