American Dream; Bangladeshi Nightmare
by GLapierre on November 2, 2013 - 6:32pm
The article When change comes to Bangladesh, published by the Toronto Star on October 24th, 2013, puts in light the situation of the garment factories’ workers in this country, following the collapse of the Rama Plaza factory, which caused the death of 1,129 workers last April.
Bangladesh hosts around 5,000 garment factories, which employ what is estimated to 4M people; most of these employees earn a monthly minimum wage of 3,000 taka (that is, 39 USD$), in conditions that could hardly be worse. The fall of the illegally-constructed Rana Plaza, last April, rang an emergency bell in the country; for an industry (Bangladesh’s most important one) that generates 20 billion USD$ a year, it seems that the previous death of at least 1,900 workers, all across the country, between 2005 and the tragedy, was not enough…
For one, the amount of workers’ protests since April has been in rise – and more especially since September… But for two, and most importantly, Bangladesh has been put under international spotlight. In fact, over the years, most of the iconic labels – name them: Zara, Joe Fresh, Walmart, J.C. Penney, etc. – have found in an extremely poor Bangladesh the perfect spot for cheap labour. As Peter McAllister, director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, explains it in the article, “there is a sort of genuine cost advantage that could be exploited, and then there is the exploitation of that”.
Now, nearly all of them, under media spotlight, have taken measures in order to ensure better working conditions for their suppliers’ employees. Since the Rana Plaza collapse, the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety has been signed by 103 brands, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, regrouping 23 brands, has been formed. Basically, these two five-year legally-enforceable agreements will ensure fire and safety inspections in the factories supplying the participant retailers.
However, says McAllister, “past plans have proved to fail when the world looked away”. Given the importance of the industry in Bangladesh’s economy, laws (regarding safety, salaries, etc.) are regularly transgressed. Moreover, even if some retailing brands refuse to deal with them, subcontractors (those “sub-branches” of the larger factories, hired to fill contracts’ quotas) stay almost unreachable; bigger factories refuse to open their books – and nor are they forced to… This is why Paul Lister, director of the legal services at Associated British Foods (which had suppliers operating in the Rana Plaza), consider these events to be a “defining moment” in the fight for better worker wages and safety, in Bangladesh.
As far as I am concerned, this situation is unacceptable. To me, the actions undertaken by the concerned brands are not even sufficient; governments should be involved in that process. As part of organizations such as the UN that promote universal human rights, it’s entirely of their business. I know that this would be tricky for our respective economies, but if I were to suggest any solution, I would recommend that governments ban companies to operate on their territory if they work with factories that failed duly conducted inspections; or at very least, that the products coming from these “blacklisted” factories get refused at the border of the countries in which they’ll be sold.
For that much of these iconic labels that are involved come from outside the region (and in vast majority from the West). For that much of this Bangladeshi nightmare is due to this American way of life…
Source article (Toronto Star): http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/10/24/when_change_comes_to_bangladesh.html.