(112 Workers Died Due To Lack Of Safety)
Last weekend 112 workers showed up to Tazreen Fashions to work for less money than Wal-Mart employees in America make in one hour. The difference is, these Bengali workers would earn that same amount of money in month's time rather than an hour's time. In addition the workers in Bangladesh were given no guarantee of safety in the work place as they worked in a poorly ventilated garments factory. They were also not allowed to leave or take breaks like the Wal-Mart employees back in the States.
It has become popular these days to attack Wal-Mart without just cause. In this case the death of 112 workers in a sweatshop is just cause. The lives of these workers is far more valuable than the few dollars that shoppers at Wal-Mart will save from their demise. In no way should profits be allowed to trump the human cost of production.
(Bangladeshis Prepare the Dead for Burial)
In this particular fire the victims were working to produce clothing for not just Wal-Mart. The factory also filled orders for Walt Disney, Sears, and Sean Combs' ENYCE label. All of these companies had orders that were lost in the fire. Each of these companies hold a portion of the responsibility for all 112 deaths their purchases helped cause. And like flies, each of these companies are now abandoning Tazreen Fashions Ltd. without daring to accept that responsibility.
When tragedies like this occur it is rare that any Western company ever takes responsibility for their own actions. The loss of these peoples' lives is just the "natural order" of things in the world economy. While families and friends bury their loved ones the West looks the other way. While children cry for their parents the companies that funded their deaths are allowed to walk away without a single dime in reparations.
It is a sad fact that this very industry is the backbone of Dhaka and the rest of Bangladesh. In a country impoverished and struggling to modernize it is the textile industry that accounts for 80% of Bangladesh's exports. Yet for its apparent dominance in the Bengali economy the textile industry only accounts for 17% of Bangladesh's economic output. With much of the money earned in this industry never making it into the local economies where the factories produce the exports to start with.
In a country where textiles are king it appears that the common worker is slave. Foreign investment in the socialist system that prevails in Bangladesh only furthers the lack of income that keeps common Bangladeshi citizens in servitude. And it is this cycle of poverty that has promised all of Bangladesh lower wages and longer hours than even their neighbors in Sri Lanka. This system gives garment companies a nearly free source of labor.
This latest fire is just another tragedy in a long line of tragedies that has been growing for decades. Since 2006 just over 300 workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh. Every one of these were lives lost so that the exports of garments could go unchecked. These lives were lost so that Europe and the Americas could receive cheap goods. Yet it is the cost of production, in human lives, that keeps ticking upward.
There is no clear solution on how to stop governments from allowing the conditions that led to this tragedy from existing within their borders. It is clear however that companies like Wal-Mart and Sears have the power to extract change within the industry through the power of their dollars spent. If Wal-Mart (and other companies in the industry) were to insist upon safe working conditions and fair labor practices within the companies they purchase from the change would occur rapidly. For it is the cash cow, the garment industry, that companies like Tazreen Fashions can not live without. And without demand for their product, or a halt in orders, the industry within Bangladesh (and China for that matter) would have to meet the demands of companies like Wal-Mart.