The death toll has now risen to over 377 garment workers; many are still missing, thought to be trapped beneath the rubble. According to MSNBC, an estimated 3,000 garment workers were employed at the time of the buildings collapse. 3,000 labor force manufacturing garments for American retailers such as: J.C. Penny, Dress Barn, Joe Fresh, and mega retailers like Walmart.
According to the Associated Press, Walmart is currently investigating whether there was any “unauthorized production.” But, isn’t that the rub? When things go horribly wrong and the media shoots a lot of attention on places like Bangladesh and worker rights, mega retailers like Walmart can cry foul and say they purchase through a third party supplier with a set standard for the working conditions for whom they purchase goods; keeping their hands clean of the blood.
Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, made the following statement regarding worker rights in Bangladesh:
“It is long overdue that the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia and other countries stop relying upon so-called ‘corporate codes of conduct’ that are never enforced. Workers must be guaranteed their legal right to organize independent unions, to bargain collectively and to have a contract that includes decent working conditions and a prohibition of child labor. Until workers are afforded their legal labor rights, nothing will change, and the list of tragedies will continue to grow.”
But we’re talking about an industry that accounts for 78% of said countries exports. Bangladesh is booming as a global hotspot for cheap garments, but with every boom also brings a higher risk for dangerous working conditions; especially when the local government in Bangladesh is lax in its regulation. 78% in exports is a big number, statistically; how much of an “eye” is the government really going to give those policies? Consider in our last report on Bangladesh regarding the November 2012 factory fire that killed 112 garment workers, garment workers who were manufacturing documented Walmart particular products, which happen just a few months ago; what changed?
In an update for our last Bangladesh report, the building owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, “was arrested while attempting to cross the border to India,” according to MSNBC. The High Court in Bangladesh is charging Mohammed Sohel Rana with violating a construction permit which allowed him to build a five-story building; while actually constructing an eight-story building. However, according to The Guardian news report, the mayor of Bangladesh approved the project, even though it violated the permit.
But this isn’t the first international garment factory disaster, and it won’t be the last, not so long as we the responsible consumer are screaming for lower costs for clothing. As consumers, we need to understand that places like Walmart are not charities; they will, some way, make a profit. Back in November of 2012, some of us watched the news and got a little pissy that Walmart employees here in the states were striking, and maybe some of us felt a bit encouraged in their actions to stand up to a mega retailer. But if we think Walmart employees here in America have it bad living on something resembling minimum wage, consider what kind of conditions garment workers are living with in countries that do not have regulated working conditions, consider that during that same month a garment factory manufacturing robes and women nightgowns for Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sales, burnt to the ground, killing 112 working class employees. Let something like that happen in the U.S. and I guarantee something will come out of it. But, as long as it happens overseas, and we don’t have to look at it, no fuss, no muss.
There is a least one retailer who is taking some measure of responsibility. Primark, according to Sky News, has said that they “will pay compensation to the victims of the Bangladesh textile factory disaster who worked for its supplier.” Notice how Primark claimed that they purchased goods through a third party supplier, but are still taking responsibility? This responsibility also includes long-term aid for children who have lost parents, financial aid for those injured and payments to the families of the deceased. While Primark is a jolly O’ England based company, American based companies, like Walmart, have refused compensation.