Op-ed pick: The West should take responsibility for the Bangladesh fire

The collapse of the building in Bangladesh last week that killed at least 380 was not an isolated incident. In November, a fire at a factory that supplied clothes to Walmart killed 112 people, and 262 garment workers died in a blaze in Karachi in September.

The unsafe factories make possible the inexpensive fashions Westerners buy at big-box stores or mall-based “fast fashion” outlets. In an op-ed published at CNN.com, Anna McMullen says that consumers aren’t making a connection between their own closets and the deadly conditions at factories in countries like Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.

When garment factories were still mainly based in retail countries, consumers knew people who held jobs in factories, and had a personal connection with those who had been injured or put at risk in the workplace.

But with globalization has come consumer apathy. Who cares about people who make clothing? As long as it is cheap we will buy it.

While consumers should feel responsible, she argues, companies need to work harder to ensure the factories that supply their T-shirts, leggings and hoodies are up to code.

Many western brands rely on audits and in-house checks to monitor whether conditions in their factories are up to scratch. In a country where a little hand shake and a small exchange of money gets the job done, this process often fails to give an accurate picture of factory conditions, building and fire safety.

It is common for fire extinguishers to be borrowed for inspection day, for workers to be schooled in what answers they have to give when asked questions.

On Wednesday, we’ll talk about the globalization of manufacturing and the benefits and dangers for workers in Third World countries.

  • Paul M. Zahorosky

    You cannot seriously blame the consumer for things like this. It is completely the fault of factory conditions in foreign countries. It is also heavily fueled by the “parent” companies and the retail stores where their products are sold. Although I despise and never shop at Wal-Mart, a $15 pair of their jeans is made in a similar overseas factory as a pair of $90 Gap jeans. Every time I shop, I constantly look to purchase items made in the USA. This process is virtually impossible, however, as there are almost no companies with manufacturing facilities in our country. The only American presence for retail is advertising, warehousing, distribution, and sales — that’s it. I used to work at The Home Depot, and during the Holiday season I walked through the expansive “gift” area. I looked at every single package for sale and found only 2 items made in the USA: Energizer batteries and Holiday wrapping paper. All other items were made [mostly] in China as well as Pakistan, Syria, and Taiwan.

    I honestly spend less money now as my rule for purchasing domestic product strengthens. I TRULY WANT TO BUY AMERICAN — BUT THE PRODUCT JUST IS NOT AVAILABLE. And the process will never change because all of the people making and selling things the wrong way are taking in too much money to care. The only way they will learn is if everyone just stops buying their overpriced garbage… and, yes, even the $15 pair of Wal-Mart jeans is overpriced considering the $2 it costs them to make it. A company’s decision to move their production overseas is usually said to be necessary to remain “competitive”, but it actually has everything to do with making more profit. Has a company ever lowered their retail prices after moving overseas?… no. The prices go up while manufacturing costs go down. That’s their bottom line, and it’s all that matters to them.

    • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/daily_circuit/ Stephanie Curtis, MPR News


      Thanks for writing in. We heard from a lot of other people during the show today who, like you, feel frustrated by the lack of options. Thanks again.