Tuesday, 29 July 2014

How Farah Baker, Gaza's Anne Frank, caught the world's attention

The history of mankind is also the history of war and conflict. For as long as humans have existed, conflicts have raged on, from two-man fights, to skirmishes, all the way up to the atomic bomb. It has got to the point where society has become largely desensitized to war.

Rarely a day goes by without news of a conflict raging somewhere in the world. Through no fault of their own, many people now seem to only understand war, conflict and mass suffering as soundbites. As segments. As blink-and-you'll-miss-them images. As statistics.

Every so often, however, from the shadows of war emerge figures of innocence, of resilience, of hope. Figures that force people to stand up and take notice, that remove the desensitization and distance, and introduce a human element. And those figures are what truly bring home the reality of war, of conflict, of oppression, and of suffering.

Currently, there is a brutal conflict raging in Palestine, as neighbouring Israel, determined to put an end to rocket attacks fired into the country by Hamas, the ruling political party in the Gaza Strip, have embarked on a campaign of seemingly relentless and disproportionate force in a bid to crush their enemies.

In war, casualties ultimately become nothing more than a statistic. One of the oldest, most famous and most misattributed war quotes in recent history argues so. The human brain cannot possibly make sense of so many deaths.

However, what does appeal to the human brain is when an individual manages to stand out from the crowd of "statistics" and, through their anecdotes, their experiences, their thoughts and their emotions, force us to put a human face to the conflict. At that point, it abruptly stops being about a load of faceless people, and it becomes personal.

Take the Second World War, for example. In the grand scheme of things, Anne Frank was one of six million Jews to perish at the hands of the Nazi death industry during the Holocaust, but through her diary, people were able to get to know her innermost feelings and thoughts, articulated perfectly on paper. She ceased to be a statistic and became a friend, a daughter, a sister. So poignant is her story that, to this day, people continue to flock to her secret annex in Amsterdam, where her diary is kept.

In the last few years, another inspirational young girl emerged from the shadow of one of the most brutal regimes of recent times. Malala Yousafzai, now 17 years of age, grew up in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, a region ruled by the Taliban. Between the ages of 11–12, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule and her views on promoting education for girls.

She then survived an assassination attempt as she boarded her school bus, and, as with Anne Frank decades before her, her story gripped the world's attention, as people struggled to comprehend how someone could shoot a young girl - again, a sister, a daughter, a friend.

Now, through social media, the latest conflict in Gaza has seen a 16-year-old girl by the name of Farah Baker grab the attention of the world, just like Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai before her.

Farah, just like millions of teenagers worldwide, uses Twitter, under the moniker @Farah_Gazan. The difference is, most teenagers tend to post silly, ill-advised things, or moan because the phone their parents gave them for their birthday is the wrong brand, or post silly Snapchats or Vines of them pranking their friends or singing. 

Farah, on the other hand, has, over the last few days, been tweeting about bombs being dropped in the suburb where she lives, crying, worrying about dying, preparing herself for being martyred, and, perhaps most absurdly of all, declaring that this is the hardest of the three wars that she, a 16-year-old girl, has experienced.

And that's why her story is now being discussed by some of the world's biggest media outlets. This is why she has gained so many followers. This is why so many people have been begging her to keep tweeting just to let them know that she is alright.

Everyone uses social media. Everyone shares images. Everyone uses emoticons to convey emotions. Everyone uses hashtags. But to see all those things and more, symbols of social media, symbols of the internet, symbols of technological progress and, by extension, human progress, to see them used in such a harrowing, heartbreaking way, is just too much for people to take.

Again, Farah could be your daughter, your sister, your school crush, your best friend. Farah is no different to any other teenage girl in the world, yet she is tweeting to the world that she is scared. She is tweeting to the world that she may not see tomorrow. She is tweeting to the world images of destructions, of explosions, of misery. She is tweeting to the world that she could die in the next few minutes.

And the world does not believe that she should be putting up with this kind of life.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The horror of the Gaza conflict, through the lens and tweets of its people

I'm going to start this article by saying the following:

I acknowledge that, not having grown up in either Israel or Palestine, or having any relatives or friends who have experience of life in Israel or Palestine, I don't exactly feel that I am particularly well placed to take either one side or the other.

When it comes to this most complicated of conflicts, I have always tried to think of it logically, to come to a calculated decision over what to believe and think, to not let myself get swayed by emotion, hysteria or propaganda.

However, tonight it has been brought a lot closer to home (metaphorically speaking). Via Twitter, millions of people have been witnessing the conflict up close, courtesy of a myriad of Gazans armed with little more than an internet connection and social media devices.

Tonight, on what appears to be one of the heaviest military offenses by Israel on Gaza, I can't help but feel shocked, angry, helpless, and a great deal more, as I find myself reading messages of fear, of panic, of disbelief, and, arguably most disturbing of all, resignation and fatalism.

These are normal, young, bright people who should be living life. They should not, under any circumstances befitting humanity, be tweeting that they may be killed at any moment, wondering whether a stray Israeli bomb will fall on their house, purely at random, and wipe out their existence. Sitting in their home, their sanctuary, unable to leave, unable to run, just hoping and praying that they will survive the night.

I really don't know what else can be said. Those tweets speak for themselves.

I hope and pray for your safety, people of Gaza. I want you to know that the world cares about you. And please, keep us updated as often and as thoroughly as you can.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Are we really living in a society where discarded food is more important than the welfare of the poor?

Today, while browsing the Internet, I went on an online forum where I post regularly. This forum, though mainly about the football team I support, also sees various other issues discussed. One thread I viewed was related to homelessness and vagrancy. On there, aside from reading some of the stories of homelessness and near-destitution from a surprisingly high amount of people, I also found out about the Iceland Three for the first time. And I've never felt so disgusted in all my life.

The Iceland Three are Paul May, Jason Chan, and William James, residents of a squat in north London. Back in October last year, the trio climbed over a wall at the back of Iceland - a supermarket chain - in Kentish Town, and took some food from a skip, to the grand value of £33. A member of the public, possibly thinking they were breaking into the store, called the police, who then came and arrested the men.
Initially charged with burglary, the trio were released after spending 19 hours in a police cell. As far as everyone was concerned, that was the end of it. 

However, this week, a statement from the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that the men would stand trial in a month's time.

A CPS spokesman said on Wednesday: "I can confirm that Jason Chan, William James and Paul May have been charged with being found in or upon enclosed premises, contrary to section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.”

Despite the chief executive of Iceland, Malcolm Walker, publicly stating that “(Iceland) did not call police (and) did not seek prosecution”, the CPS replied by saying: "We feel there is significant public interest in prosecuting these three individuals."

My question is along the lines of the one posed by Mr Walker: How? How is this in the public interest? Why do they believe that it is in the public interest to pursue a case against these three individuals?

Is it in the public interest to make a public display of contempt and callousness, akin to those shown in Dickensian Britain, towards those who are destitute and homeless?

Is it in the public interest to demonise and further ruin the lives of vulnerable people whose only goal that evening was to avoid starvation, by invoking a law created nearly 200 years ago?

Is it in the public interest to deliberately go against the wishes of the business owners, who were happy to let the whole thing slide?

And is it in the public interest to show the nation how discarded, out of date food in a skip, soon to be thrown into a landfill, is more important than human beings who just so happen to be out on the streets?

A year ago, Left Foot Forward revealed how eight million people in the UK are just one missed paycheque away from homelessness. It doesn’t take anything to drive someone into destitution nowadays. And when it happens, don’t expect any favours from the Big Society.

A petition has appeared online calling for Baljit Ublhey, the head of the CPS in London, to intervene in this case.

The campaign states: “It is morally bankrupt and divisive to punish the poor under an antiquated law for feeding themselves with food destined for landfills. We the public do not want to see our money wasted on this prosecution.”

Now, I’m not one for spamming people’s inboxes and feeds with petition signature requests, but this is certainly a case which I believe needs to be publicised. This is an attack not just on the poor and the destitute, but on each and every one who has, at some point, had money problems, and may have even come close to losing their home or livelihood.

And in today’s Britain, that figure is much higher than you think.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Aeris Houlihan: The FA needs to move with the times and shake off preconceptions about male-to-female athletes

On the surface, things appear to be moving in the right direction on the subject of LGBT rights in UK society. Just today it has been revealed that, following the passage of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act in July 2013, same-sex weddings in England and Wales have been given the green light to take place from the 29th March next year.

Things are progressing in the field of UK sport too, with Olympic medal-winning diver Tom Daley, one of Team GB's most charismatic and best-loved athletes, revealing last week that he was in a relationship with a man, an announcement welcomed with mostly open arms by fans, figureheads and fellow sportspeople.

When it comes to the relationship between UK sport and trans athletes, though, we cannot say we're progressing quite as steadily.

Just this week Aeris Houlihan, a transgender female from Leeds, has gone public regarding her failed request to play for her local football team, Middleton Park Ladies FC.

The 32-year-old applied to the Football Association in June 2013 for the right to play for the team, and after being asked to provide a doctor's letter verifying her hormone levels - which she duly did - was allegedly ignored for five months, before being told she couldn't play until her sex reassignment surgery has been completed for at least two years.

Given she is scheduled to have her operation in March next year, this means she won't be able to play competitively until March 2016.

Though the rule is supposed to minimise any gender-related advantages while playing football, this cast-iron ruling doesn't take into consideration that Ms Houlihan has "lost all the testosterone advantage males have and I'm far too weak to play for the men's team."

She adds: "The FA didn't even bother to look at my hormone levels or my blood test results, which are the same as any other woman's. They are blind and need to look at the evidence in front of them."

Though the FA isn't particularly known for being at the forefront of LGBT issues, it is not alone in its stance on male-to-female athletes.

This year, we've had the case of Fallon Fox, a M2F athlete whose decision to compete in women's MMA competitions led to a male athlete, Matt Mitrione, labelling her an "embarrassment" and a "lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak". Ultimately Ms Fox was allowed to compete in women's bouts.

The two-year rule currently implemented by many sports associations derives from the International Olympic Committee, who in 2004, stipulated that they must have legal recognition in their country, hormone therapy to "minimise gender-related advantages" and proof of at least two years of living in their "newly assigned gender" after sex reassignment surgery.

This rule has split opinion in the science and in the sports world. Some welcomed the rule, like Helen Carroll, sports project coordinator for the San Francisco-based National Centre for Lesbian Rights, who claimed it "set a precedent for other organisations", which in turn allowed M2F sportswomen like golfer Mianne Bagger to compete professionally.

Others, like Kevin B. Wamsley, professor of sport history at the University of Western Ontario, criticised both the original rule and the 2012 amendment, which, rather than using invasive procedures, stipulated that female athletes with levels of testosterone that reach a man’s normal level will be barred from competing with other women if it is found that the athlete’s body is responsive to androgens.

"No matter what they call it, it’s still a sex test that’s all about judgments and so much more about social values than science," said Mr Wamsley, the former director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies. "They don’t need this test, and I think they should get rid of it."

The rule is indeed flawed, and its blanket adoption by so any sports organisations worldwide, including the FA, seems to go against the actual science and circumstances of each individual athlete. In Ms Houlihan's case, her blood tests indicate levels of oestrogen and testosterone akin to that of a woman, facts corroborated by her doctor. She is legally a woman, as stipulated by her UK passport and driving licence.

Yet, the fact of the matter is, Ms Houlihan is unable to engage in an activity as simple as playing Sunday League football with members of the same sex as her for at least another two and a half years, because of a rule founded on the somewhat archaic assumption that males' physiques will always be inherently stronger or faster than a female's, and adopted, in absence of anything more concrete on the subject, by a sporting body unwilling to use any consideration or discretion in the case.

The FA website, on its LGBT Football page in the Rules and Governance section, claims it will "Identify boundaries within football that prevent LGBT people from engaging with the sport and ensure that every opportunity is given to enable members of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans communities to participate and progress within their chosen area of participation in football".

In light of Ms Houlihan's case, it's time for the FA to step up to the plate and ensure this is done.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Shutting down Ask.fm won't make cyberbullying go away - a wider, roots-up approach to the problem is needed

The tragic case of Hannah Smith, the teenager from Lutterworth, Leicestershire who committed suicide on Friday 2nd of August after being subjected to atrocious cyberbullying on the website Ask.fm, has prompted a lot of soul searching and accusations amidst the grief.

For those who don't know, Ask.fm is a social media website which allows users to post messages to other user's profiles, which are displayed in the form of a public wall.

Whilst a substantial proportion of those tend to be from people whose profiles are visible, the main concern over the website is the option to post anonymously. For this is when people, using the cloak of anonimity, are given free licence to let rip with vitriolic and abusive comments.

Going on the Ask.fm page and clicking one of the very first profiles displayed instantly brought me to anonymous messages such as "you're a gay f****r, f*****g your own grand dad in his grave? lmfao sit your ass down before i f**k your mum and sister" and "you better watch your step you little f**k... you are going to find me? lol Go ahead you little c**t". Meanwhile, a random click on a female profile gave me this: "You (and your friends) are ugly f*****g s***s! You think your So amazing but your really not... everyone actually hates you! Your all worthless t***s".

When you consider that the majority of users are teenagers, who are potentially more prone to the damaging effect of offensive and abusive comments such as those above, you realise just how problematic and dangerous this setup is.

Worse still, Hannah Smith isn't the only victim of cyberbullying on Ask.fm to have taken her life - another three deaths have been attributed to the website in recent months in the British Isles: Ciara Pugsley, a 15-year old from County Leitrim, Ireland, committed suicide in September 2012, while Erin Gallagher, a 13-year old from Ballybofey, Ireland, took her life a month later. Both were cyberbullied on Ask.fm. Joshua Unsworth, a 15-year old from Lancashire, also took his life, in April 2013, after being subjected to horrendous abuse on the site.

The problem with cyberbullying of an anonymous nature is that it's hard to hold anybody to account, hard as people may try, so essentially, young, promising lives are lost in the blink of an eye, and there is no justice for the families who are forced to live the rest of their lives without closure. It's a growing problem which has impacted on a substantial percentage of young people - Tarapdar and Kellett's study in 2011 shows that "38% of young people have been affected by cyber-bullying".

The finger is currently being pointed at the Ask.fm platform itself, with petitions demanding its closure drawing tens of thousands of signatures on Change.org and even the government e-petitions website. More recently, companies have started withdrawing adverts from the website in disgust, which could potentially put financial pressure on the page.

However, we must consider this: even if Ask.fm is shut down completely, what's to say another platform won't take its place within a couple of days with the same format, ie anonymous posting? Ask.fm began in 2010 as a rival to Formspring, another social Q&A website (itself judged responsible for widespread cyberbullying and a string of teen suicides in the US) - it may be the biggest, but it's not the first one, it's not the only one, and chances are it won't be the last one.

Rather, a wider approach is needed to tackle the scourge of cyberbullying. There are three things which need to be considered in this: accountability, safeguarding, and education.

Accountability, ideally, would come in the form of ensuring social media platforms are run on a member-only account format. The vast majority of abusive messages on Ask.fm come from anonymous users, so if every member had to have a login, chances are people may be more careful about what they post.

This, however, is easier said than done, given the open and public nature of the internet. One government cannot realistically demand that every website out there, particularly those visited worldwide, change its modus operandi. Besides, anonymity is one of the key features which makes Ask.fm so popular - many users find this liberating, being able to ask people random questions, perhaps saying they're attractive, or just being silly and cheeky without worrying about being judged. This in turn attracts them to the site, and you end up with a "social media migration" whereby their friends and peers "settle" into the website, creating an account and using it regularly.

Even if our government stopped UK-based IPs from logging onto those websites anonymously, who's to say those who have accounts won't get cyberbullied by anonymous users from abroad? The only suggestion I would have is to block all UK-based providers from even accessing websites who don't commit to non-anonymity, but this may potentially be dismissed as draconian and setting a precedent with regards to freedom of internet access.

Which brings us to our second point - safeguarding. If anonymity online cannot be quashed, then it's crucial for websites to ensure that abuse can be reported promptly and discreetly. Just a few days ago, Twitter introduced an in-tweet abuse report button.

This also has its own issues - often, IRL (in real life) bullying actually spills over to social networks like Ask.fm - those bullied could very well know who's sending those messages, the anonymous cloak ensuring there is technically no proof of this, and any attempt to report the abuse or even, as put by many commenters on some newspaper comment boards, to simply "stop using the website(s)", could have repercussions in real life, in the form of targeted abuse or humiliation for daring to report them or leaving the website.

So the third point, education, is important when the above two still don't yield a solution. Educate both youngsters and adults about the perils of cyberbullying, which sites they should ideally steer clear of, allow open three-way conversation between parents, teachers and pupils that takes the opinions of all into account, teach youngsters how to become responsible internet citizens and propagate knowledge of how, if places like Ask.fm are to still be visited, to use them wisely and know what to do to report any abusive content. And since cyberbullying and real-life bullying are often interlinked, more efforts need to be made to address the latter as well.

Crucially, adults need to stop churning out the age-old "if you get bullied, just leave the website" mantra, which has a negative effect on the bullied party, like "it's that simple, you're an idiot for not doing it", and their inability to do so means that they're effectively do something wrong - the last thing they need. It lacks empathy and understanding. It's not as simple as that for teenagers, bearing in mind how much peer pressure they have to deal with, and how they feel the need to be accepted and be with the "in" crowd. Just like "walk away from bullies" or "report the bullies" back when I was at school wasn't as simple as it should theoretically have been, neither will leaving a website, particularly when the bullying is done by someone they know and have to put up with regularly.

The death of so many young, promising teenagers at the hands of cyberbullying on social media is a modern-day abomination and needs to be addressed swiftly, thoroughly and promptly, but we need to stop viewing the likes of Ask.fm as simply engines of bullying, where getting rid of it will magically make the problem go away. It, and other social media, should rather be viewed as an extension of bullying, and as thus, we need a total, roots-up approach to match the problem, both online and in real life.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Robbie Rogers' heart-warming story confirms changing attitudes in football

This year, on the 15th of February, at 1am, in a London apartment, one man made a decision to post a honest, heartfelt confession on his personal blog.

This man, a young yet accomplished professional footballer once on the books at Leeds United, had been well aware of what this confession might have done to his career, bearing in mind the track record he was up against. A career which he had painstakingly developed since he was a child and had taken him to the proud heights of representing his country, the United States, at international level.

Despite all this, he was suffering. "Secrets", he wrote, "can cause so much internal damage", and his secret was causing him so much anguish that he made the incredibly brave decision to sacrifice all he has worked for, to forsake his career, in order to release this secret and render him, in his words, a "free man".

On the 15th of February, at 1am, in a London apartment, Robert Hampton Rogers, aka Robbie, came out as gay.

Robbie must have been aware of the only other professional footballer in Britain to come out. Justin Fashanu, once of Notts County, Nottingham Forest and Norwich City, publicly declared he was gay on the 22nd of October 1990. Since then, his career was never the same. He received abuse not only from the fans, but also from established football figures. His own brother disowned him, and as far on as 2012, he sensationally declared Justin was not gay at all. The troubled younger Fashanu sibling was driven to despair and, ultimately, suicide.

Was all this what was to await Robbie once he too came out? It was too big a risk to take, and as such, he announced his retirement from professional football at the same time as his confession. He finished the post with, "I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended." Clearly he didn't feel that he still had a role to play in football.

The footballing community, however, had other ideas.

Within hours of the announcement, there was an outpouring of support for Rogers. Many US stars, such as Carlos Bocanegra, Stuart Holden, Oguchi Onyewu, Brad Guzan and Kasey Keller all tweeted messages of pride and respect at his coming out, as well as sadness about his retirement. In the UK, Robert Snodgrass, Clarke Carlisle, Ross McCormack, Alex Bruce and Gary Lineker, among many others, also publicly expressed their support.

Rogers himself was taken aback by the reaction, tweeting: "Thank you everyone for all of the support and love. Wasn't expecting this."

Since the initial reaction, he tried keeping a low profile, but this was difficult - the story marked a turning point in the football zeitgeist.

Since the dark days of yesteryear in which Justin Fashanu played, the attitude towards the LGBT community in sport has changed within the UK and US. Over the last few years, negativity and misinformation has slowly been making the way for tolerance, acceptance and, crucially, indifference - not seeing coming out as a big deal at all, which is the pinnacle of inclusion.

Prior to Rogers' coming out, support towards homosexuality in football came in many forms - the likes of Anders Lindegaard and Joey Barton have publicly talked about the subject and supported the prospect of a fellow footballer coming out. In January 2013, Matt Jarvis of West Ham conducted an interview and posed for pictures in Attitude magazine.

A survey by Staffordshire University showed changing attitudes in the stands too, outlining that more than 90% of football fans would not hold any hostility to a footballer coming out. Meanwhile, major clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City began initiatives in support of the LGBT community.

All of this, though, was mere preparation to the ultimate litmus test - what happens when a player actually comes out? The results, in the form of the public reaction to Rogers' coming out, turned out to be heartwarmingly positive. So much so that, in an amazing turn of events, Rogers began training with LA Galaxy at the start of May, and on the 24th, he officially came out of retirement to become a Galaxy player.

The mere fact that a professional player has knowingly put his career on the line to announce his gay, believing it would be over, only to then receive so much support that, encouraged by the positive environment, he overturned his decision in the matter of months, shows just how far not just football, but society as a whole, has come.

Obviously, this isn't the end of it. The culture of football in the UK still holds entrenched homophobic attitudes. But Robbie Rogers' story is testament to the fact that progress has been made, and continues to do so.

Crucially, part of the reason for Rogers' return to football is to become a role model for those who were still living in fear of revealing their sexuality, not just in sport, but as a whole. Initially telling the Guardian in March he "wouldn't want to deal with the circus", he spoke to USA Today Sports in May after his U-turn: "These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I'm 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?"

Even though he achieved so much merely by publicly coming out, his return to football is truly groundbreaking and a reason for celebration, a "Jackie Robinson moment" as Shawn Francis of The Offside Rules tweeted. Rogers now has the chance not only to continue his amazing journey as a professional sportsman, but to be an inspiration to millions of male football/soccer fans and players living in fear and confusion over their sexuality who now have a role model to look up to.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Blame the local authorities, supply chain and retailers for the Bangladesh disaster, not the end consumers

On April 24th, the collapse of the Rana Plaza, a commercial building in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, claimed over 600 lives. It is considered to be the deadliest garment factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest structural failure in modern human history.

The general consensus among those who have been covering and following the tragic story seems to place the majority of the blame on the building's owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, the local authorities who allowed such a poorly built structure to be constructed and for people to work in it, and the retailers and supply chain for perpetuating those conditions for the sake of profit.

However, it seems that an increasing amount of sources have decided to point the finger at the final link of the supply chain: the consumer.

The BBC published a video asking whether "clothes shoppers were concerned about the disaster", with one interviewee declaring that "a lot of people don't even bother to think about child labour or cheap labour", while The Financial Post ran an article entitled "Bangladesh factories: Shoppers turn blind eye as cheap clothes win".

Meanwhile, Sarah Morris, business development director of Trajectory Partnership, had similar scorn to pour on those who buy from such shops: "Just 10% of consumers are committed to shopping ethically. Around one-third of consumers are utterly disengaged from the very notion of ethical shopping".

This is a very simplistic and unfair view and, in reality, the bigger picture is much more complicated than this. It cannot simply be said that consumers know that, when they go into a high street clothes shop, they actively know they are buying goods which have been made using unethical labour and, figuratively speaking, have blood in the fabric, but simply do not care, because they just want to save money.

While the consumer needs to exercise a due amount of diligence when it comes to ethical shopping, it's not always that easy. Although people can be aware of the issues and make a conscious effort whenever they can to purchase goods from reputable, ethical stores, one has to take into account things like employment, commuting, and familial responsibilities, which may leave little practical time, as well as proximity to ethical outlets.

In addition, ethically made garments make up a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the overall $1 trillion global fashion industry, and given the complex web of suppliers and subcontractors involved in the industry's supply chain, it's incredibly difficult for consumers to know if whether a product has been manufactured in safe conditions.

Income also plays a major part in consumers' spending habits. Here in the UK, discount fashion retailer Primark has come under criticism for using one of the suppliers within the collapsed building. But in these austere times, with more and more people struggling to make ends meet and having to downscale their spending habits, they do not deserve to receive criticism for either wanting or needing to spend less.

People can only buy what is put out in front of them and what they can afford, and while some are able and willing to go to great lengths to ensure their purchases are as ethical as possible, we cannot demonise all other consumers who, for one reason or another, end up buying from those other clothes retailers.

So what is the answer? To boycott brands implicated in the disaster? To only buy British? Sadly this won't increase the welfare of sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, rather it will deprive them of a much needed income. The country's garment industry accounts for nearly 80% of its exports, meaning many of its people are reliant on it for their livelihoods.

And of course, anyone who's truly been keeping a close eye on the issue of ethics and welfare in the industry should remember a certain documentary which aired on Channel 4 three years ago, focusing on appalling conditions in sweatshops based in the English city of Leicester.

A disaster of the magnitude of the Rana Plaza collapse cannot be dismissed or swept under the carpet like so many previously - just seven months ago, a fire at a garment factory in Ashulia, outside, Dhaka, killed 112 people. Similar stories of buildings collapsing in Dhaka also killed high numbers of people, mostly involved in the garment industry, in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

The fashion industry shouldn't just wait for consumers to start voicing their concerns about the welfare of the products they purchase. Given the events two weeks ago, it's pretty obvious that the operation is deeply flawed. Its corporations need to band together and implement measures as soon as possible, such as having ground staff carry out audits in the factories, as opposed to merely pushing for them as they've been doing for years with few tangible results. The UK government also needs to step in to ensure more transparency and good conduct in the supply chain to help ensure this kind of disaster doesn't repeat itself.