A Bangladeshi woman cries while holding the portrait of a relative who was missing after the factory building’s collapse.
April 24 was a very sad day in Bangladesh. On that day, an eight-story commercial building on the outskirts of Dhaka collapsed, killing at least 1,127 people and injuring some 2,500. The event was one of the deadliest accidental structural failures in modern history, but was entirely preventable. The building’s top four floors had been put up without a permit, and the original structure was supposed to house offices and shops only, not the heavy equipment used by the clothing factories that operated there. Although inspectors had noted cracks in the building the day before, and the businesses on the lower floors were closed, the garment factory workers were told the building was safe, and that they’d be fired if they stayed home. Moreover, this is not the first factory tragedy in Bangladesh. For example, in 2012 a garment factory fire killed more than 115 people and injured at least 200.
The April 24 event highlights the role that the garment industry plays in developing countries. Besides Bangladesh, other countries that supply cheap clothing to department stores in the developed world include Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, China, and India. Clothing exports comprise significant chunks of national revenues. For example, the garment industry pumps $20 billion a year into Bangladesh’s economy. The clothing industry does provide jobs. In fact, some of these countries boast very low unemployment; Cambodia’s unemployment rate is near zero. However, Cambodia’s poverty rate is 20 percent, which points to the industry’s dark side—low wages. In addition, in the garment industry unsafe working conditions and child labor are common. Labor unions are either not allowed or are ineffective.
What responsibility does the consumer bear in the global garment industry? Would you be willing to pay a bit more if you knew that the factory where that shirt was made was safe and its maker was paid a decent salary? Or does the responsibility lie elsewhere?
Image credit: © AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
- 2013 Savar Building Collapse
Facts and figures on the April 24 disaster in Bangladesh can be found here.
(Source: Wikipedia; accessed May 31, 2013)
- Bangladesh Disaster Calls Attention to the Worldwide Garment Industry
Watch a videos of garment workers in developing countries.
(Source: Voice of America, May 3, 2013)
- Most U.S. Clothing Chains Did Not Sign Pact on Bangladesh Factory Reforms
Check to see which retailers that sell clothing from Bangladesh have committed to pay for inspections, building upgrades, and training. (Hint: Unless you shop in Europe, it’s a short list.)
(Source: The Washington Post, May 16, 2013)
- Inside a Bangladesh Garment Factory that Plays by the Rules
Read about a Bangladesh factory that cares about the well-being of its employees.
(Source: CNN Online, May 20, 2013)
- Garment Industry a Boon for Poorer Countries
Read this Canadian economist’s defense of the garment industry in developing countries.
(Source: TroyMedia, May 21, 2013)