On Bangladesh’s Textile Disasters
My father worked in Bangladesh for 8 years in the 80s, and in East Pakistan (what Bangladesh was called pre-independence) in the 50s. I have relatives who live in India, and I spent my summers and many Christmas vacations in Bangladesh. My mother spoke fluent Hindi (though that isn’t the language spoken in Bangladesh) as she grew up in Darjeeling and Calcutta.
Let’s run through the points.
The first is the simplest: I find it interesting that there is so much textile manufacture in Bangladesh. There was none to speak of in the 80s. Let me put it crudely, Bangladesh is way down the chain, there are very few poorer, more corrupt countries in the world outside of Africa. The textile industry is running out of cheap places to make clothes if they’re in Bangladesh.
The second is this: Bangladesh’s government will never enforce safety regulations in the textile industry. It is impossible, it will not happen. Nothing happens, nothing gets done in Bangladesh without baksheesh—bribes. Bribes are the actual salary of government employees, they are not paid enough to live decently on without them. Textile factories will be throwing off so much money, in Bangladeshi terms, that virtually anyone can be bought, and with so much money at stake, anyone who can’t be bought will be otherwise dealt with.
Which means that if textile manufacturing jobs are to made safer it must be done by the companies buying the textiles, like Joe Fresh. Only they can do it, because they control the money spigot. If unsafe work circumstances will cost the people running the factories money, they will fix it, assuming that the audits are thorough and rigorous, by incorruptible people. Those people will have to be outsiders (outsiders aren’t necessarily incorruptible, but locals can be gotten to too easily) though they will need local fixers on staff.
My prediction is that some nominal steps will be taken, but only nominal ones. You don’t do textile manufacture in a country like Bangladesh because you want safe, you do it because you want cheap. Really, really cheap. Bet on the big headline disasters being only the tip of the iceberg, with routine maimings and horrible work conditions being part of the daily life of the workers.
All that said, if you live in Bangladesh, odds are you have no options. These jobs may be horrible but they are jobs, and pay better than most of your other options. That’s why the textile companies are there, no one who has other options would work in their hellhole sweatshops.
Ultimately that comes back to us and our corporate leaders. We want cheap clothes, they want outsize profits (they don’t pass most of the “cost savings” on.) If you aren’t dirt poor yourself, I suggest you look at the label, and if it’s made in a third world country (including China), don’t buy it. It’s not much, but it’s about as much as you can do. And, generally speaking the quality of clothes will be better.
If you really want to do something about this, tie work safety to allowing clothes made in such countries to be imported to developed nations, and have the inspectors be government employees of the country where the clothes will be exported. That goes against everything our current government and corporate leaders are willing to do, however, and also offends the sensibilities of many on the left so just get used to the fact that a lot of blood stains your clothes, just like lots of blood is mixed in to your oil and is used to fertilize your food.