“If you watch this documentary...every time you finger the seam of a jacket or the rivets on a pair of jeans while shopping, it will be impossible to feel anything other than sweat of the people who...put it together.”

The Irish Times

Race To The Bottom

RACE TO THE BOTTOM
(2002)
Duration: 52.00 minutes

RACE TO THE BOTTOM was inspired by a single paragraph in a newspaper that reported that a fire in a garment factory had taken the lives of 51 mostly women and young girls in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. They were unable to escape because the doors were locked and windows barred – a very common practice in the industry. This film is dedicated to their memory and sought to answer the profound questions raised by this wholly preventable tragedy that only warranted a few lines in a major newspaper in the so called developed world.

Filmed in dramatically diverse locations as the Walls of Derry in Northern Ireland and the sweat shops and export factories in Bangladesh the documentary sought to explore the very roots of the race to the bottom: why in the international garment industry constantly moving production to the country with lowest wages, and which invariably means the location with the worst if not the most dangerous working conditions?

“We were cheap labour once” one Derry woman and former garment worker declares in the film touching on the most obvious obsession of a global industry that seems to have an insatiable appetite for finding places with lower and lower wages.

Made ten years ago this documentary continues to prove compelling and indeed very tragic because so little has changed in the industry as the recent Tazreen factory fire in Dhaka, which took 112 lives in November, 2012 and an appalling 1,129 mostly women workers’ lives in April, 2013 when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in another wholly
preventable disaster.

Filmed through the eyes of mostly women workers in Northern Ireland and Bangladesh this documentary offers rare insights into the migration of the garment industry as the race to the bottom shows no sign of slowing down.

Watching this film, made ten years ago, in the shadow of the Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse which cost a staggering and unbelievable 1,241 mostly women workers lives one cannot but feel a sense of outrage that if the reforms advocated by those who were interviewed the hundreds who have perished in fires and other factory disasters in the intervening years would still be alive.

The women featured from Bangladesh were active in seeking to have trade unions recognized and workers rights respected. The courage of women like Nasma Aktor, a trade union leader, still offers hope for the future. The late Neil Kearney, the then Secretary General of the International Garment and Textile Workers Union, a very frequent visitor to Bangladesh and a tireless advocate for workers seeking to organise trade unions in country was quite unequivocal about the only way real change was possible – the women in the factories had to be allowed to organise their own unions to secure their rights. Would the Tazreen fire or the Rana Plaza collapse been allowed to happen if workers in the industry were allowed to protect themselves through the own trade unions?