Everyone knows about the recent tragedies in the sweat shops of Bangladesh, the collapse of an eight-story building with the loss of 1,127 lives, but also the factory fires that killed hundreds, and the others that keep happening. Those who have given it any thought at all realize that the inexpensive clothes we wear are purchased with the very lives of people forced by circumstance to labor under inhumane and dangerous conditions for very little pay. But that stops very few of us from buying that inexpensive clothing.
If you don’t believe that our clothes are inexpensive, take a look at old houses. The original closets often consist of one shallow space four feet wide, which was sufficient to hang one’s entire wardrobe back when. Remodeling often involves converting a small bedroom into one or two walk-in closets many times the size of the original closet space.
Our inexpensive clothing is bought
with the blood of the world’s poorest
and most exploited.
American retailers are busy trying to find ways to assure that disasters similar to the recent collapse won’t happen in the future. But they are talking only about Bangladesh garment workers, and many other industries in many other countries are no different. It’s a solution that is doomed to failure.
First, we can’t simply have our inspectors check out a factory every six months. They may well find that all is in order. Fire extinguishers, emergency exits, no dangerous materials, no risky machines, and so on. In Bangladesh, it was the local engineer-inspector, as well as the workers themselves, who warned management that the building had slipped into a dangerous condition and should be shuttered—which they ignored.
We cannot be assured that our cheap clothing doesn’t have blood on it if we look only at Bangladesh. Third world nations tend to have few laws and regulations protecting workers, let alone effectively enforced construction codes. If they did, our clothing wouldn’t come so cheap. In fact, right now buyers are busy looking at other countries with cheap prices, so that we can continue to buy underpriced things. “Friendly to business”, they call it, but what that really means is friendly to exploiters.
Far too many factory owners
are ruthless, driven by greed,
and have little interest in safety.
Far too many factory owners are ruthless in keeping production at maximum and safety at minimum. They pay as little as they can get away with, practice wage theft, and abuse workers in many other ways, even in the US. In China, conditions were so bad at FoxConn that dozens of workers jumped out of high windows rather than continuing to live in such misery. Thousands of workers everywhere have been injured by long exposure to unsafe chemicals used in manufacturing. But we still buy their blood-soaked goods. We don’t know how to avoid it, or we can’t resist the low price.
It becomes apparent that the world needs a global agreement to provide fair and safe working conditions for those who make things for others, regardless of what that does to prices at Walmart and Target.
Oh, oh, now we’re in big trouble, because to radical conservatives in the US any suggestion that a global problem requires a global solution means the fabled Secret Black Helicopters of the Secret New World Order will descend, the Secret African Armies will enslave us, the Secret United Nations plan to take away all our guns will be activated, and so on, yada-yada. Rand Paul, supposedly a serious presidential candidate in 2016, accused President Obama of working with “anti-American globalists” to “plot against our Constitution”. I doubt he means multinational corporations, which would at least be real entities. He’s really saying we need more guns. Reality means nothing to such people.
Either we control greed
or we accept that our purchases
are bought with the blood and suffering
of the world’s poor.
Therein lies the real problem. Either we devise ways to overcome the nitwittery of the far right and control the greed of manufacturers everywhere, or we simply accept the fact that our purchases are bought with the blood and suffering of the world’s poorest. In the long term, this means we must have fair treatment for all working people. That won’t mean everyone earns an American income. It means everyone would work under satisfactory conditions, including safety, humane treatment, reasonable hours, and fair pay. Things would cost more, but there wouldn’t be so much blood on them. The trouble is that the capitalist system is inherently tilted toward the opposite, a world of gross inequality, with the benefits and money going to the capitalists, and the rest working for low pay in dangerous conditions under the heel of the greedy.