by the Anarco Philosorapter / Earth First! Newswire
“We are not worth more, they are not worth less.” —S. Brian Wilson, activist, author of Blood on the Tracks
What the hell is going on in Bangladesh? Earlier this week, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed which a day earlier was closed by police because of a visible crack in the building’s structure and reports of “jolts” within the building. Despite the closure and obvious structural instability, thousands of workers were inside the building at the time of the incident. Factory workers were reportedly forced to enter the building for work that morning by factory officers after the building owner said it was safe. At the time this article is being written, 377 people have been confirmed dead and nearly 900 are still missing amongst the rubble. The factory provided garments for multiple clothing stores including American retailer J.C. Penny and the UK’s Primark. Walmart has denied any ties to the toppled factory, but there are reports of Walmart brand clothes being found in the building’s ruins.
The Bangladeshi government has ordered the arrest of factory owners, factory officials, and building engineers. The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested near Bangladesh’s western boarder apparently trying to escape into India and several other arrests have been made. These few people will be held accountable for their personal negligence, but what about the leaders of the global garment industry who rely on low wages and unsafe working conditions of garment factories to ensure the outrageous profits of the nearly one trillion dollar a year industry? Are they not culpable as well? The industry has continually avoided stricter safety regulations in Bangladeshi factories even after a factory fire last November killed 112 people.
At a 2011 meeting with a dozen of the industry’s top retailers (including Walmart, Gap, and H&M), a nine page safety overhaul was outlined and presented by a coalition of unions from Bangladesh and other countries. The plan would institute an independent inspection agency with the power to shut down factories that it deemed unsafe. Under the plan, this agency would be funded by industry contributions of $500,000 a year. The plan was effectively rejected by every retailer that attended the meeting citing concerns of costliness and the fact that the agreement would be legally binding.
A Walmart representative was quoted in the meeting’s minutes saying that, for Walmart, it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments.” A claim that is absolutely egregious considering Walmart reported 466 billion dollars in revenue for the year of 2013, a figure that is more than 4 times the gross domestic product of Bangladesh itself. Needless to say, Bangladeshis are pissed. In riots spurred by the building’s collapse, protesters overturned cars and burned down two nearby garment factories. Protests, however, are nothing new to these garment workers. In fact, they happen nearly as often as major factory disasters, but nothing ever changes.
The problem is that these demonstrations, like the arrests made over the recent building collapse, never target those who are truly responsible for the dangerous working conditions in these factories. The real criminals are the corporate executives that enjoy lavish salaries and limited liability while the garment workers of Bangladesh subsist on wages as low as $37 a month, literally the lowest in the world according to The Solidarity Center, a worker’s rights organization.
It is personally sickening the total disregard for life that led to this week’s events. Unfortunately, this is something we see everyday from big corporations that (not who) reduce living things into “resources” and measure the worth of these beings by how much capital can be extracted from their exploitation. It is this same abhorred concept that justifies the destruction of the natural world for the sake of an ever expanding global economy. Until the systems we create begin to value life over production, the nightmare will never end.
While, yes, the factory owner and the officials who forced, threatened, and coerced workers to enter the building are immediately responsible for putting people in danger, these individuals do not exist in a vacuum. Behind them is a greedy industry and an entire global economy that demands a steady supply of cheap meaningless crap. This debacle that is global capitalism and the pilfering profiteers at the top of the pyramid rely on two things: the exploitation of cheap labor in less industrialized nations and the willing complacency of the consumers where they sell their goods. Something needs to change. With the riots in the streets of Bangladesh spreading to multiple cities, it seems the Bangladeshi labor force is doing their part. Let’s do our part to hold accountable those who are truly responsible for the crimes that led to this tragedy. Solidarity!