The Edmond Sun

Opinion

April 24, 2014

Bangladesh’s sweatshops — a boycott is not the answer

LOS ANGELES — One year ago this week, the eight-story Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, killing 1,129 people. The building’s top floors had been added illegally, and their weight caused the lower stories to buckle. Many of the victims were young women who had been sewing low-priced clothes for Western brands, earning a minimum wage of about $9 a week. It was the worst disaster in garment industry history.

In the year since Rana Plaza, inspectors commissioned by U.S. and European clothing companies have scoured Dhaka, checking factories that supply brands to Western retailers.

What they found was alarming: More shoddy high rises in danger of collapse. Exits blocked with chains and steel bars. Exposed electrical wiring and other fire hazards. Stairwells without steel fire doors.

“The way the system is set up, this is going to keep happening,” said Jason Motlagh, a freelance journalist who investigated the problem on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

With wage levels about one-fourth of China’s, Bangladesh has become one of the world’s biggest suppliers of mass-market garments. And producing garments cheaply has been possible in part because government and local factory owners don’t enforce basic safety regulations.

“They actually have really good safety laws on the books,” Sajeda Amin, a Bangladeshi sociologist, said last week. “The problem is, the people who are in charge of implementing them can be paid off.”

Facing the likelihood of more disasters, a few American companies have pulled out of Bangladesh; others have cut their production, restricting it to a few modern facilities. But most have stayed, betting that they can keep production going while holding manufacturing facilities to basic safety standards that the government has neglected.

“Our test is: Can we prevent another Rana Plaza?” said Ellen O. Tauscher, a former California congresswoman who heads one of two industry groups working on safety in Bangladesh. “We’ll never prevent all factory fires. But can we prevent building collapses and factory fires that result in people dying?”

The mostly European group has publicly released the results of 10 factory inspections. The American-led group hasn’t released any results, saying it’s waiting for approval from the government of Bangladesh first.

Officials in the two groups say they’re trying to cooperate with each other, but they’ve also been quick to trade accusations.

“We’re trying to do something for workers in Bangladesh, and we walked straight into a political campaign,” Tauscher complained.

So what’s a well-meaning consumer to do?

Bangladeshis, including labor activists, don’t want anyone to boycott clothes made in their country. In one of the world’s poorest nations, sweatshops are paradoxically one of the bright spots in the economy.

“For many of the women in these factories, this kind of work was the better option,” Amin said. “The best thing would be to expand their opportunities instead of boycotting.”

Already, she noted, political pressure since Rana Plaza has forced the government to increase the garment industry minimum wage to about $16 a week.

Most consumers, I suspect, don’t want to buy clothes made in unsafe factories. But knowing which clothes were manufactured responsibly isn’t easy at this point. For labor conditions in Bangladesh to improve, consumers and retailers will need to remember the Rana Plaza disaster not just on its first anniversary but for years after that.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014

  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014

  • Holding government accountable for open meeting violations

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.

    July 21, 2014

  • GUEST OPINION — Oklahoma GOP voters want educational choices

    A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.

    July 21, 2014

  • HEY HINK: IRS interferes with citizens’ rights of free speech

    The patient is gravely ill. We have detected traces of a deadly venom in the bloodstream. We don’t know how widespread the poison is, but we know, if not counteracted, toxins of this kind can rot the patient’s vital organs and could ultimately prove fatal.

    July 19, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • RedBlueAmerica: What should the U.S. do about illegal immigrant children?

    The crisis along the southern U.S. border has politicians and immigration officials scrambling. More than 52,000 children, mostly from Central American nations, have arrived so far this year. The Department of Homeland Security is running out of space to hold them all.
    President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion in borrowed money from taxpayers to cover the growing “care, feeding and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups” when our own veterans are not taken care of. Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the president’s plan, saying more money should go toward securing the border.

    July 17, 2014

  • VA scandal highlights the need to change Pentagon spending priorities

    The ongoing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal raises an important question: When our veterans are being denied access to basic health care, why is the Pentagon squandering billions of dollars on programs that do not benefit our military forces? Is there a link in organization attitudes?

    July 16, 2014

  • For better politics, it’s time for some raging moderates

    Like more than 20 percent of my fellow Californians, I am now classified as a no-party-preference voter, registered to vote but with no affiliation to any of the state’s political parties.
    I am for lower taxes and for marriage equality. I am tough on crime and I am anti-abortion. I believe that a pathway to citizenship is a necessary part of immigration reform and that student test scores should be a critical component of teacher evaluations.

    July 15, 2014

Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
     View Results