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Profits put ahead of safety in Bangladesh


Bangladesh seems to be a constant source of tragic news. It is plagued by floods of the Ganges River, by cyclones from the ocean, and the latest news about the appalling conditions of the working people. The population density in Bangladesh is one of the highest in the world; most people are dirt poor and the corruption is rampant.

An eight-story building that housed western garment industries suddenly collapsed, killing 1,150 people, mostly women. Cracks had been observed a day before, and women were fearful entering the building, but they were told, “If you miss a day’s work, you’ll lose three days’ pay.”

These women are paid $37 a month on the average. After the pay in China climbed to $300 a month, Bangladesh saw the number of companies wanting to locate there increase to 5,000. Pope Francis, the “people’s pope,” upon learning of the low pay in Bangladesh, labeled it “slave labor.” In his more recent statement he decries the “cult of money” in today’s world,. Instead of being the “means” in social interactions, as it was meant to be, money has become not only the goal but the ruling principle of the society as a whole. The condition of humanity has been pushed aside as secondary importance.

While two-thirds of the apparel produced in Bangladesh goes to Europe, one-quarter comes to the United States. Bangladesh has proposed a “Fire and Building Safety Accord.” Fourteen North American companies, among them Gap and Walmart, declined signing it.

It seems to me that time has come for the American consumer to rise up and stop supporting slave labor anywhere. Instead, let us demand that the garment industry return home to provide jobs to the millions of unemployed right here. As Alexander Hamilton already noted: “Free trade is fair trade only when it happens between countries on the same level of development.”

American people are generous and are happy to pay more for their garments, if they are made here at home. But how do we change the hearts and minds of the greedy companies. (Do they have hearts anyway?) Their sole goal is making profit, nevermind how. And instead of paying taxes as we ordinary folk do to reduce the national debt and keep the government functioning, they hide their profits in tax havens overseas.

Maire T. Zakrzewski


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