The BBC has an interesting article today that discusses the collapse of an eight-story building, much of which was used for textile production, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There are reports of over a thousand people wounded and at least 127 dead, making this one of, if not the largest industrial disasters in the country’s history. The collapse of the building has reportedly been caused by severe cracks in the foundation and a dismal level of maintenance, which leads right into a discussion of safety practices and policies that are lacking. You can read the article here.
It’s easy to compartmentalize and think that this event, while terrible, has yet happened thousands of kilometres away and has no real bearing on our lives (this is, regretfully, too often the case with international happenings). The reality is, however, that the western world, those countries that have been deemed “Old Core” in nature, do have some level of responsibility for these kinds of disasters. Large corporations in particular, the vast majority of which have home offices in developed countries, support these kind of industrial activities by providing a great amount of business for these low-cost production sites. They purchase products, in this case clothing, produced cheaply due to low labour costs and this provides these corporations the ability to sell goods to us in the first world at relatively low prices. They sell many of these goods and therefore take in great profits from these commercial ventures. To produce these same goods in our own countries in the quantities demanded by the consumer would cost far too much to make it possible for each of us to have all the “things” we are led to believe we need or want. With all the profits transnationals make each year, you’d think they could do what needs to be done to help the people of Dhaka recover from this disaster.
These lax labour laws, a fault of Bangladesh’s government in this case, allow this problem to continue, yet the country has little choice. If it wants to develop economically in any meaningful way, it must remain competitive in those areas which show the greatest opportunity (the textile trade). If the workers of Bangladesh required more pay and safe working conditions, the costs associated with these adjustments would increase the cost of their product, perhaps leading transnationals to go elsewhere for business, leaving the already poor country with even less opportunity for economic and social advancement.
For the moment, I wish the best for those affected by the building collapse and hope that change, beyond a superficial placation of the public, is somewhere on the horizon.