Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Bangladesh’s textile industry is an incredibly important part of that country’s economy as it employs around 3 million people in over 4,000 factories that generate approximately $18 billion in export earnings. It, therefore, makes sense that both Dhaka and the owners of these factories would do everything in their power to accommodate the low cost and high production demands of their clients – demands that may require minimal safeguards against industrial accidents. Obviously, no one thought that such limitations would result in a fire that would kill more than 100 people in a factory located outside Dhaka this past weekend.
In an interview taken soon after the fire, Delowar Hossain, the managing director of the company that owned this factory stated that “I lived on these workers’ efforts … I do not know what went wrong and cannot understand why the staff could not get out of the building.” Clearly, Mr. Hossain – who has disappeared but may be in police custody – is covering his butt since its obvious the staff could not get out of the building as the corridors were filled with piles of yarn and fabric, fire exits were locked and had to be broken for the staff to escape, and, according to one witness, management told workers not to evacuate immediately. So, factory management is clearly to blame for the deaths associated with this fire. By the way, there was another such incident at a different textile factory on Monday morning but, fortunately, there were no reported casualties.
Such incidents are not new – according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, over 500 Bangladeshi laborers have died in such fires since 2006 – and these deaths are tragic but blaming the clients for these fires is patently ridiculous. I do not agree with the labor leader Kalpona Akter who said that “international, Western brands have a lot of responsibility for these fire issues.” How are they to blame for these issues? Sure, they set the quotas but they don’t force the companies to abandon safety requirements to achieve these quotas. Blaming the “western brands” is easy because it absolves the true party who is responsible for preventing such incidents from any blame. The responsible party here is the Bangladeshi government who should author legislation and enforce regulations that protect its citizens. Dhaka needs to take actions beyond simply closing the country’s garment factories for one day as part of a national day of mourning. They need to implement the necessary safety procedures and should work with their clients to mirror the policies that are in place at their factories in other countries. Working together, they may be able to save lives, maintain production, and prevent any long-term damage to this valuable industry.