As the world celebrated Labor Day, Pope Francis condemned “slave labor” and the working conditions of the Bangladesh garment workers who died in last week’s factory collapse and thousands of workers marched in Bangladeshi capital demanding death penalty for the factory owner, not many believe any change would come.
The size of the building had been increased illegally when three stories were built on top of the original five to accommodate five garment factories, massively increasing the weight of the structure and possibly causing its collapse.
Huge cracks appeared in the building a day before it collapsed, police ordered an evacuation, but Rana told tenants it was safe and they should go back in. The next day a bank and some shops in the building did not open but factory managers told their workers to go back in. A couple of hours later the building collapsed.
This is also not the first time, fires killed hundreds of people in November 2012 as well as January 2013 and the cause was as usual mismanagement and poor working condition with nil safety precautions in place.
Also Read: Bangladesh Factory Inferno Witness: Managers Ignored Fire
The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, is under arrest on accounts of negligence, illegal construction and forcing people to work, which is punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. But he is a politically influential man. Hardly anyone in his country believes he will be punished with more than a tap on his wrist. Neither do they hope the catastrophe will be the last one.
About half of Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet legal work-safety standards, and the country has some of the lowest wages in the world. But its government is eager to lure Western companies and their jobs, and many labor groups want those big corporations to stay to improve conditions, not cut their losses and run. The country’s government building inspectors are actually ineffectual and it is therefore vital that the Western companies have their inspectors examine the structural integrity of factory buildings.
Brand names like Walmart, Primark, Benetton, Gap etc still get their merchandise made in third world countries to cut cost and apparently not much care is given to the working conditions, health and safety of workers etc.
The Walt Disney, however, ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh after the November fire. Their decision also extends to other countries, including Pakistan, where a fire in September 2012 that killed 262 garment workers.
International retailers can do more to advocate safer standards at textile factories that manufacture their wares, in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Customers can do their part by putting a little pressure on their favorite brands, though that would require placing as much value on the cost of a life as you might on the cost of a T-shirt.
The EU has also said it’s considering action under its trade rules to encourage changes in the nation’s supply-chain operations.
However, at a larger scale it is hardly probable that much difference will be made.
Bangladesh has garment industry that yields over €15 billion-a-year, which supplies retailers like Walmart, Primark, Joe Fresh, etc
The labor is cheap, the management promises better care and surveillance after every similarly devastating incident and yet, these tragedies keep occurring. It only points to the fact that not only the factory owners and city officials but also the retailers don’t really care about the working conditions or the lack of them as long as they keep getting cheap products to sell to their customers.