Ryerson journalism graduate Lysanne Louter has been awarded an International Emmy for her work on an investigative documentary.
CBC’s The Fifth Estate debuted Made in Bangladesh last year. It examines the unfit working conditions in the Bangladesh garment industry following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory. The factory supplied to many large Canadian retailers, such as Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and Walmart Canada. The collapse killed more than 1,100 people.
The documentary was awarded an International Emmy on Sept. 30, 2014. It was the first project that Louter worked on after joining The Fifth Estate team. She directed and produced the documentary.
Louter is the youngest producer on the show by at least a decade. She says The Fifth Estate is her first full-time, non-contract position since graduating in 2004. She joined the program last April and travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to film the documentary in August.
Louter says the award could not have come at a more opportune time.
“Everything that we buy, we think very little about who made it and under what conditions,” she says. “It’s a really important time for us to be thinking about those things.”
She says the response to the documentary has been overwhelming. The Fifth Estate received feedback from viewers wondering how to donate to survivors of the factory collapse. Viewers also asked how they can change their buying habits so they don’t support the dangerous working conditions.
“I think people are really starting to think differently about the whole situation, and that’s exciting,” Louter says. “It’s hard to measure the effect. It’s not a measurable thing, but when you encounter so many people in your life telling you they’ve seen it and were impacted by it, that’s the most we can do. I think if we’ve done that, we’ve done our jobs really well.”
Louter says this award comes at a crucial time for The Fifth Estate and CBC. Cutbacks are causing strain on the program.
“Our boss had to fight very hard to keep some of the young people who are working on the show,” she says.
Louter says this award is a testament to the fact that the work, and the people doing the work, are worthwhile and necessary.
She says she was not prepared for how deeply she would be affected by the story. “It was a very personal experience for me,” she says. She remembers sitting across from then 16-year-old Aruti, one of the survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse, who lost a leg and her mother in the disaster. Aruti was trapped in the rubble for two days.
“I saw myself in her. I saw all the young women in my life in her. I just felt so completely heartbroken,” she says. “She is lost. She is someone who will be forever marked by this.”
Louter and The Fifth Estate team spent three days on the site of the factory collapse — a pile of rubble with twisted rebar and shreds of clothing.
“For a long time, I wasn’t even able to say what I’m saying right now. I wasn’t even able to talk about it because it was so painful to me,” Louter says. “It still haunts me to this day because it just didn’t need to happen. I struggle with that even now, to understand what to do, how to move forward, and how to get the images of that out of my head.”
The award has helped make more people aware of the problems in the Bangladesh garment industry.
“I feel, out of this whole experience, that I am so much more aware of what conditions people are working in around the world — not just in Bangladesh,” she says. “The more people who can watch the documentary and the more people who can see what it’s really like, the better.”
Louter is currently working on a few projects with The Fifth Estate that cannot be disclosed.
Kathleen McGouran was a reporter for the Ryersonian. She has been a staff writer for Toronto music blogs Anchor Shop and livemusicTO, and has a weekly radio show on Ryerson's internet radio station, Spiritlive.net.
Kathleen graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015.