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.