MILAN — Tongues were wagging in the Italian fashion industry last week after Presa Diretta, an analytical weekly television program on Rai Tre, ran a segment called “Made in Italy” that focused on the sale of Italian luxury businesses to foreign conglomerates; the struggling textile factories that have kept manufacturing in Italy in spite of higher costs, and the labor and trade challenges posed by an increasingly globalized textile business.
With footage of bodies being pulled out from the collapsed Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh last year and people frantically searching for relatives in the rubble, an ominous voice-over noted that the victims were working for Western brands Mango, Primark, Wal-Mart and Benetton, among others.
At a Sistema Moda Italia lunch, the fashion and textile consortium’s president Claudio Marenzi, who is also the president of Herno, was asked for his take on the issues raised by the TV program. “All companies in that market segment manufacture outside Italy. Consumers need to realize that this is what mass market is,” he said, adding that providing fair employment opportunities in poor countries such as Bangladesh was “positive,” but that fashion companies should always be accountable for the working conditions of those manufacturing their garments.
The Clean Clothes Campaign’s Italian branch, Campagna Abiti Puliti — which collaborated with the Presa Diretta journalists on the TV program — released a statement criticizing Italian label Benetton for not disclosing two of its supplier factories as mandated by the Bangladesh Accord, withdrawing from the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee and not signing its Arrangement, which was created to provide funding to victims. “We call on Benetton to change its attitude toward the right for victims to be fairly compensated by signing the Arrangement and making a contribution of at least $5 million into the international trust fund,” said Campagna Abiti Puliti representative Deborah Lucchetti, adding, “We call on the other Italian brands sourcing from Rana Plaza, Manifattura Corona and Yes Zee to do the same.”
Benetton hotly disputed the criticisms, as well as its inclusion in a segment called “Made in Italy,” when the brand openly manufactures most of its garments abroad. Benetton Group chief executive officer Biagio Chiarolanza posted his responses to the Presa Diretta program on the fashion company’s Visible Change Facebook page, noting that the two supplier factories CCC Italy referred to were in fact on the Accord’s list of places to be audited.
“As for the reason why we stayed in Bangladesh, I’d like to remind you that immediately after the tragic events of Rana Plaza, the Bangladesh government publicly asked companies not to abandon the country: The textile sector accounts for about 30 percent of its GDP,” Chiarolanza said. He also said that Benetton had purposely opted to increase its support for BRAC — a nongovernmental organization founded in Bangladesh in 1972 — rather than wait months for the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee to establish its terms for participating labels. Through BRAC, Benetton is providing financial assistance for artificial limbs and surgery, as well as psychological support and various training courses for victims and their families.