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That horrid building collapse in Bangladesh

The scenes of devastation from the collapse of a building in Bangladesh are hard to ignore....as are the innumerable deaths and injuries.    No less importantly, there are innumerable issues and critical questions surrounding the poor workers on sites such as the one which collapsed.    It's a subject taken up by Alecia Simmonds, a law lecturer at the University of New South Wales, writing in "What price $10 dresses and T-shirts now?" The Age.

"The question of responsibility stretches from the global to the minutiae, from international labour standards to the clothes racks of Myer. It's a question that stems from our commercial imperialist past and will continue into our neo-liberal future. And it's a question that centres on the lives of women.

We could start by blaming the illegally built building, although it's certainly not the first. Five months earlier, 112 workers died in a fire in the Tazreen garment factory. The workers burnt to death because the gates had been locked from the outside. We could also blame the fact that there are only 18 inspectors to monitor the 100,000 factories in the Dhaka area. Or we could blame the fact that all foreign retailers except Tommy Hilfiger, Tchibo and Calvin Klein have refused to sign the Fire and Building Safety Agreement that would establish a system of independent factory inspectors. All this is true, and terrible, but there's a larger context.


The only reason why clothing companies go to places such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, or the US-Mexican border, is because they're on a hunt for cheap labour and they no longer want to invest in building factories. The minimum wage in Bangladesh is $37 per month and there is an entire shadow economy that pays even less. The profit margin for Bangladeshi manufacturers is low so they subcontract out labour to factories with illegal risky practices. While the foreign retailers report stellar annual profits, some Bangladeshi manufacturers barely break even. The only way they can make profits is by increasing work hours often to 12-14 hour days, and avoiding safety regulations and environmental standards.
As global capital sniffs like a ravenous wolf around the world in search of cheap labour, who are the workers who end up caught in its jaws? Liesbeth Sluiter from the Clean Clothes Campaign estimates 84 per cent of workers in the global clothing industry are women; 30-40 million women worldwide."


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