Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Is There Blood on Your Shirt?......

The cheap clothes that Americans buy from retailers every day actually come at a very high price.
That cost came into stark relief last week when Rana Plaza, a building housing several garment factories, collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, killing at least 386 workers and injuring many more. With bodies still being pulled from the wreckage, the accident is already “one of the worst industrial accidents in world history,” according to Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.
The workers who died were producing clothing for American and European consumers and earning only $38 a month, according to the Associated Press. Now the clothing brands and retailers that profited from the cheap labor at Rana Plaza are struggling to wash the blood from their hands, while other brands rethink their role in Bangladesh as a whole. Earlier this week, officials from Walmart, Gap, and about two dozen other retailers and apparel companies met in Germany to begin developing a plan to increase safety across Bangladesh’s garment factories, according to The New York Times.
Today Disney, whose goods have been tied to accidents in Bangladesh in the past, announced that it will halt all production of branded merchandise in the country by March 31, 2014, according to the Times.
As the death toll mounts in Bangladesh factory accidents, western companies are feeling more pressure to change their practices. Here’s a list, drawn from both TIME reporting and other confirmed media reports, of companies that have past or present ties to devastating accidents at Bangladesh facilities:
The world’s largest retail giant was listed as a buyer on the website of Ether Tex, one of the garment factories destroyed in the accident. Walmart says they had no authorized production in the facility and will take “appropriate action” if they discover unauthorized production was happening in the factory. In a Reuters report, Ether Tex’s chairman initially said it had been doing sub-contracting work to supply Walmart at the time of the accident, but later said the work had been completed before the incident. In November, a fire at another Bangladesh factory that killed more than 100 was found to be producing products for Walmart stores, among other retailers.
Joe Fresh
The Canadian apparel brand, owned by Loblaw Companies Limited, was being manufactured at the Rana Plaza factory. Loblaw has vowed to provide compensation for families of victims who were making Joe Fresh apparel. The company also plans to send Loblaw representatives to the accident site to support the rescue and aid effort. Loblaw is now pushing for all Canadian retailers to adopt more stringent safety standards through the Retail Council of Canada.
Primark, a British retailer, has also directly accepted responsibility for receiving goods from the hazardous factory. The company is planning to provide monetary aid for victims’ families. “We are fully aware of our responsibility,” Primark said in a statement. “We urge these other retailers to come forward and offer assistance.”
A JCPenney official said that some of the Joe Fresh products being produced at Rana Plaza would have ended up in JCPenney stores, though the factories had never previously created private label JCPenney merchandise. The company says it has members of its social responsibility team currently on the ground in Bangladesh gathering information from local authorities.
Though the Italian fashion brand emphasized that none of its products were recently made in the Rana Plaza factories, one Benetton supplier had subcontracted work to the facility in the past. The manufacturing facility was removed from Benetton’s supply chain before the accident.
Children’s Place
One manufacturer of clothing for the children’s retail chain was located at Rana Plaza, though none of the company’s products were being manufactured there when the building collapsed. A Children’s Place spokesman said the company is fully aware of its responsibilities and will provide “financial and other aid” to people affected by the accident.
Dress Barn
This women’s fashion retailer said that it had not purchased any clothing from the Rana Plaza facility since 2010, according to The Washington Post.
Cato Fashions
Cato Fashions, a women’s fashion brand said that New Wave Bottoms, one of the manufacturers at Rana Plaza, was one of its suppliers, according to the Associated Press. However, New Wave was not producing clothing for Cato at the time of the accident.
The Walt Disney Company

Disney was not producing goods at Rana Plaza, but labor groups in Bangladesh claim to have found Disney apparel in the ruins of the factory destroyed by a fire in the nation’s capital in November. Today Disney announced that it will no longer produce licensed merchandise in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Belarus, Ecuador and Venezuela, according to the New York Times.

Fast, Cheap, Dead: Shopping and the Bangladesh Factory Collapse

The collapse of a factory building near Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed at least 362 people, is almost certainly the worst accident in the history of the garment industry. It’s worse than the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 that you learned about in American history class and which helped lead to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards. It’s worse than the 1993 Kader Toy Factory fire in Bangkok, which killed 188 people, nearly all of them women and teenage girls. It’s worse than the Ali Enterprises Factory fire in Karachi, which killed at least 262 people — and which I’m guessing nearly all of us had forgotten about, or never knew it occurred, even though the disaster happened only eight months ago.

Bangladeshi officials are still investigating the causes behind the factory’s collapse on April 24, although Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, was arrested over the weekend as he attempted to flee the country. There’s no shortage of possible reasons — building codes in Bangladesh are too rarely enforced and corruption in the country is rampant. Nor, sadly, are such disasters rare. A major fire in a textile factory in Dhaka killed over 100 people just last November. While thousands of Bangladeshi protesters have taken to the streets in the wake of the building collapse, and the political opposition has called for a national strike on May 2, there’s little hope that the catastrophe will be the last that the country’s garment workers suffer.

The clothes that the doomed workers in Dhaka were laboring over when their factory collapsed include some Western brands, like Primark and Joe Fresh. Is there anything we as clothing consumers can or should do about these deaths? In a post written last week as the dead were still being tallied in the building collapse, Slate’s economics blogger Matthew Yglesias suggests, not really:

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer.
Yglesias was raked over the coals by, as he put it in a later piece, just about the entire Internet. (This one was particularly good.) Yglesias was guilty of, at the very least, bad taste — the economic wonkery can wait until the dead have been counted. He makes the neoliberal point, just as the sweatshop defenders did during the Nike Wars of the 1990s, that Bangladesh’s low, low cost of doing business has helped the country take needed textile jobs — including from China — and build an $18 billion manufacturing industry. But there’s a difference between accepting that workers are being paid sweatshop wages to make our incredibly inexpensive clothes — the minimum wage is $36.50 a month — and accepting that they must labor in deathtraps. And they do: according to the International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group in Washington, more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in fires and other disasters.

Even Yglesias backtracked later, emphasizing that there are on-the-ground improvements that can be made to labor standards in Bangladesh that could mean the difference between life and death. (See this interview with Kimberly Ann Elliott of the Center for Global Development for a few ideas.) And those improvements shouldn’t drastically increase the cost of clothes made in Bangladesh — which is a good thing, given our addiction to cheap and fast-changing fashion:

“It bothers me, but a lot of retailers are getting their clothes from these places and I can’t see how I can change anything,” 21-year-old university student Elizabeth McNail said, clutching a brown paper bag from clothier Primark the day after a building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, killed at least 362 people. “They definitely need to improve, but I’ll still shop here. It’s so cheap.”

International retailers can do more to advocate safer standards at textile factories that manufacture their wares, in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Customers can do their part by putting a little pressure on their favorite brands, though that would require placing as much value on the cost of a life as you might on the cost of a T-shirt.

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