Mourning the Real Victims of the Bangladesh Garment Factory Disasters
News comes from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, that a disastrous fire swept through a garment factory there, killing eight people. A factory fire in November killed more than 100.
The garment industry in Bangladesh is euphemistically called “loosely regulated,” so, regrettably, these things (fires and so forth) tend to happen with alarming regularity. An entire building collapsed there not long ago, killing more than 1,000. It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it? Between protecting human life and encouraging business investment? You don’t want thousands of people dying every year in preventable accidents, but on the other hand you don’t want to add a few cents to the price of a finished t-shirt.
It’s only polite to take a moment to recognize the dead Bangladeshis. And it’s terribly impolite to call them “slaves,” since slaves don’t earn $1.80-a-day. Also, unlike slaves these Bangladeshis had a choice! So, we hereby recognize and appropriately mourn the workers who perished sewing our jeans. They will be missed.
Very sad. But who’s mourning for the real victims of these horrible Bangladesh disasters? The millions who will be affected by this for years to come?
We are. We’re mourning for those who seem to have been left out of the discussion, as if their needs aren’t important. We’re mourning for the American consumer.
That’s right. There’s only one thing that can come of these horrible garment factory calamities: higher clothing prices.
Governments will get involved. There will be investigations and accusations and handwringing. And eventually the slave masters are going to be forced to upgrade their stitching dungeons to meet “safety codes” and “modern standards.” Legislation might even compel the owners to pay their workers more, including overtime, so a 12-hour day is now going to cost the boss drastically more. (Like, maybe 50-cents more per worker per day. It adds up.) Which all means that until the apparel companies get their operations set up in Malawi or another failed republic, the overall cost of making our clothes in Bangladesh is going to increase.
And you know who pays for that!
This state of affairs seems rather ungracious, even unfair. Why should we suffer? We’re the good guys in this morality tale. By providing the voracious demand for cheap clothing pieced together in faraway lands, we consumers are the ultimate job-creators, the people who give destitute Bangladeshis an opportunity to graduate from begging on the street to living in sustainable poverty. Plus, they get to go home after their 12-hour shift with the satisfaction of knowing that the sweaters they knitted might be worn by someone living the American Dream, the one in which anything’s possible with hard work. That’s got to be inspiring.
So mourn the victims – Bangladeshi and American, direct and indirect. And then pray there aren’t anymore pesky garment factory fires before it’s time to go clothes shopping again.