Cheers went up yesterday among the exhausted rescuers at
factory in . It had just been
announced that six factory owners had been arrested. Dhaka, Bangladesh
So far 380 garment workers, mainly women, are known to have died in the rubble of that huge building, where 3,000 people were working at the time of its collapse.
The worst ever factory disaster in
history has shocked people around the world, including those who wear clothes
purchased at Primark, Benetton and Walmart, which used the factory. Matalan and
Bonmarché are also appear to be connected with the New Wave Style company, the
largest employer in the Dhaka building.
Many share the desire to make those who profit from employing cheap labour by making people work under such lethal conditions pay for their crimes. But – and there are several buts – will punishing these men put an end to the crude and cruel exploitation of human labour that takes place day in and day out, not only in Bangladesh but throughout the world?
And how could this murder – and it is a kind of murder – happen so soon after the fire at the Tazreen factory last November, also in
Dhaka, in which 112 people died? Why was nothing done after that?
The factory owners at
insisted workers should return to work even after safety engineers warned that
huge cracks in the building’s walls were evident. They were told they would be
docked three days pay for every day they were absent. Rana Plaza
In the wake of these events, many shoppers feel complicit in the suffering of those in the Bangladeshi rag trade. Are we wearing “blood clothes”, they ask? Calls for consumers to boycott companies like Primark are widespread. Ethical buying is said to be the solution.
Like so many others,
Evening Standard fashion editor Karen
Dacre calls for “consumer power” to force changes in the clothing industry. That
sounds good. But how can you tell how a company treats its workers? And who is
responsible for auditing conditions?
Responsibility Outsourced, a report by major
trade unions, is deeply critical of the companies and organisations that are
supposed to monitor how workers are treated. The Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan in
which 260 workers died in a fire last year, had just earned its certification from
the non-profit social auditing group, Social Accountability International.
In the report, which is dedicated to murdered garment workers leader Aminul Islam, the unions are deeply critical of social audit firms, including the Fair Labour Organisation which monitors the Foxconn plant that supplies Apple.
gets money from corporates such as Apple and Nestlé.
Trade union and labour activists know that factories are not going to police themselves and are rightly calling for binding agreements. But even after a binding agreement was developed by labour organisations, Wal-Mart and Sears not only refused to sign but refused to pay compensation to the Tazreen victims.
But, while the report avoids saying so, it is the capitalist system itself which is the real murderer. As it notes: “While this globalised business model continues to provide vast profits for companies, it comes at a tremendous cost to working people and to the economies of many of the poorest nations.”
Human labour is simply another commodity to be bought and sold, at the cheapest price going. That’s why manufacturers moved into
the first place. The was just one of the
5,500 factories Bangladeshi rag trade factories where the average monthly wage
of the three million workers is around £25 per month. Clothing production
accounts for 82% of Rana
GDP, a huge rise
Companies must seek out the cheapest labour possible to out-do their competitors. No amount of consumer boycotting or regulation will abolish that underlying imperative. As one Bangladeshi union organiser told the BBC: "You buy one get one free - but it's not really free."
The global corporations will always find willing accomplices, whether it is in
China, Brazil or in Britain in their search for
profits. Moving on from an economic system driven by greed and profit is the
biggest priority of all.
Corinna LotzA World to Win secretary