|People rescue garment workers trapped at a building outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 25.|
The horrible disaster in
where hundreds lost their lives as a shoddy building collapsed onto the various
workforces, forces us to face an unpleasant truth. Bangladesh simply isn’t rich enough
to be able to have the same safety and working standards as those we enjoy in
the rich countries. Bangladesh
Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the
Bangladesh Centerfor Worker Solidarity, is traveling with Abedin on a 12-state tour in the . They are demanding fair compensation from Wal-Mart and a legally binding agreement from manufacturers to ensure fire and building safety and worker rights. “This is a pattern of gross negligence on the part of multinational corporations,” Akter said. “They know what is happening, but they are not stopping it.” United States
The proposed answer seems to be that the buyers of the goods from these factories must make sure that said factories are safe, that everyone is properly paid, that they’re enforcing high standards and so on.
To which there are two responses I’d make. The first is that this is all a bit colonial really, isn’t it?
have a government, they do have laws about who can work where, for how long,
how much they should be paid and so on. They also have building codes, building
inspectors and all the rest. It really is a colonial attitude to insist that
the locals cannot work these things out for themselves and that they must have
some set of foreign rules imposed upon them. In a certain light we can even say
that it appears racist to some extent. Poor brown people just aren’t good
enough at this governance stuff so we enlightened ones will have to do it for
However, whatever your opinion of that idea, there’s another much stronger argument.
just isn’t rich enough
to support the sort of worker safety laws that we have ourselves. As Kindred
Winecoff points : Bangladesh
But neither is this the best time to completely denounce neoliberalism or engage in the sort of extreme wishful thinking through which it is suggested that Bangladesh could (or even should) have levels of labor protection equivalent to the U.S. That is quite literally impossible:
’s GDP per capita is about $2,000 per year. Taken together, U.S.-level unemployment protections, retirement accounts, safety regulations, and other programs which benefit labor are more costly than that. So it’s impossible. Bangladesh
Even if the entire economy were devoted to nothing but providing equal labour provisions, the
standards to Bangladeshi
workers, there still wouldn’t be enough money to actually bring Bangladeshi
standards up to US ones. And that’s even if the entire economy were devoted to
it: no one gets any income or food or anything else while we do so. So clearly
it’s impossible for there to be equal standards currently. US
The sad truth of it all is that such standards will improve in
for exactly the same reasons they did in the and US a century and more ago.
For exactly the same reason they are improving in UK right now. As people become
richer they take some of that new wealth not in pure cash. But in all those
other things like shorter working hours (and thus more leisure), safer
workplaces, unemployment protections and the rest. These are the products of
Which means that all of us who would like to see those conditions improve, and yes of course I include myself in that number, should be cheering on the export led growth of that Bangladeshi economy. For it is indeed that which will lead to those better working conditions that all desire.
Which leads us to the question of how to aid that economy in growing: the most obvious would be to deliberately go and buy those textile products made in that economy. The more that sector sells the richer the country and the workers will be. The richer the country and the workers the better working conditions will become. For as my boss at the Adam Smith Institute, Madsen Pirie, repeatedly points out, the best way of alleviating poverty is to buy things made by poor people in poor countries.
First appeared on Forbes.com, 28 April 2013
business and technology. Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in