Imagine your office building just collapsed… Imagine garment workers in Bangladesh could take safety for granted

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By Stephan Manning.

Let’s imagine you work in a huge office building. You have been noticing cracks in the building structure. When raising safety concerns, your boss replies that it is safe enough and you should not worry. You find out that top management has given orders to continue operations despite obvious risks. Client pressure to deliver and keep costs down seems to be a major factor. Suddenly, the office building collapses. You barely escape through one of the few emergency exits. Right behind you, over three hundred of your colleagues get buried under the debris and die. Sounds extreme?

Well, this is what just happened a few days ago in Bangladesh. The building that collapsed was a garment factory; the people who died were mostly young female factory workers; the bosses who gave the order to continue work despite safety risks made contracts with global clients, such as Benetton, Cato Fashions, Joe Fresh, Primark, and Mango. Client representatives have expressed their condolences. But who is responsible? Management? Corrupt government officials? Global buyers? And why is it that a series of related events, including a fire at Bangladesh’s Tazreen Factory which killed over a hundred garment workers a few months ago, have not led to any serious action to prevent such tragedies from happening? Unfortunately, media coverage on the recent factory collapse is already fading. Business as usual is about to return. Before it does however – we should hold on for a second. Maybe we should care a little more about what has happened in Bangladesh …

Imagine you were born and went to school in Bangladesh before studying science, business or engineering in the U.S. or Europe. Imagine you used to work in that factory, or you know people who did. Even if you never lived in Bangladesh yourself, you might know someone who did, someone who knows someone else who has worked in one of those sweatshops. It is astonishing sometimes to think about how little separates us from one another in today’s world. Not to mention of course the clothes we buy and wear that are ‘Made in Bangladesh’.

joefresh

Imagine further that in the near future some of the survivors or their relatives might go to college and come to the U.S. on a H-1B work visa. Maybe they get hired by a business service provider such as Cognizant, Infosys or Tata, who have roots in India – Bangladesh’s large neighbor – and who have expanded globally, not least into the U.S., hiring thousands of young graduates, including a large number of H-1B visa workers. Imagine you might become a colleague of someone connected to those factories, or you will be a subcontractor or client of that person. And wherever this will be, you probably take for granted that the building you work in will not collapse or catch fire, that your personal safety – and the safety of your co-workers, clients and sub-contractors from the U.S., India and Bangladesh – comes before any cost-cutting concerns. And there is nothing wrong or naïve about assuming that. It’s common sense.

So, let’s make sure that people around the world – no matter where they work or who they work for at this moment in time – can take basic safety regulations for granted. Let’s make sure that the people who got killed in Bangladesh, who might have become your friends or co-workers, did not die for nothing. And let’s make sure their global clients don’t get away with condolences. It’s not just our moral obligation as consumers and human beings to promote global safety standards, e.g. by supporting the Clean Clothes Campaign who has been reaching out to global buyers to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, but it’s about realizing that our world is getting more interconnected. Making a donation to support binding safety agreements across the sector, or paying a few Dollars more if labels guarantee sourcing from a secure production facility might save somebody’s life, somebody’s family’s income, somebody’s opportunity to study, work and live abroad and get to know you in person.

Good examples of global citizenship – such as the promotion of global safety standards – may be passed on to future generations of workers, entrepreneurs and managers across the world. It’s perhaps a sign of hope that a child was born and rescued from the ruins of the collapsed factory. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this child can live in a world where workers can take safety for granted? Wouldn’t it be great if later in life this person works for a company which never compromises safety for lower costs, larger profits or plain survival? We can do something to facilitate that. It’s our chance to make a difference.

Further References

Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity

Clean Clothes Campaign (takes donations)

Democracy Now! on Bangladesh factory collapse

Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (takes donations)

New York Times (April 26 2013): Western Firms Feel Pressure as Toll Rises in Bangladesh

Picture taken from article (April 24 2013) in The Huffington Post Canada

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A True Patriot: Carlos Arredondo

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By Stephan Manning.

Like many others, I was shocked at the bombings during the Boston Marathon yesterday on Patriots’ Day. And like many others, I felt inspired by the heroic effort of Carlos Arredondo in helping victims and preventing more severe casualties. But Carlos Arredondo is not just a random helper in a hat, but a long-term peace activist. In 2004, his son Alexander was killed in the Iraq war. In 2011, his other son Brian committed suicide being unable to cope with the loss of his brother.

Since 2004, both Carlos and his wife Melida have been actively opposing the ongoing U.S. military engagement in Iraq. As part of their efforts, they became members of the organization Gold Star Families for Peace – a community of families of soldiers who died in the war – whose mission was “to be a positive force in our world to bring our country’s sons and daughters home from Iraq, [and] to minimize the human cost of this war” (see Wikipedia entry). Since 2011, both have dedicated themselves to supporting military families who have suffered from suicides and mental trauma (see related article by Colonel Ann Wright).

The reason why Carlos came to this year’s Boston marathon was because one of the runners was honoring his dead son Alexander. Carlos expected the runner to make it to the finish line between 2 and 3 pm. The explosion occurred around 2:50 pm. Carlos did not think twice about rushing to the horrible scene and doing everything he could – as an American Red Cross volunteer – to help people in need and to assist the relief effort.

To me, Carlos Arredondo is a true patriot. Not just because of his heroic deeds on Patriots’ Day. But because throughout his life, especially following the death of his son Alexander, he simply did what he felt was right at any moment. No matter if he put his own life in danger or not. No matter if his actions were appreciated or if he had to swim against the political mainstream.

In fact, Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not believe in empty symbols. In 2007, he was attacked by members of the Gathering of Eagles, a right-wing group, during an anti-war march in Washington D.C., because he was allegedly holding the American flag upside down. I wonder how many of these attackers knew what it’s like to lose someone in a war. In particular a war that could hardly be justified. A war that had nothing to do with protecting America. A war that made many Americans feel ashamed of their home country. Sometimes, being patriotic means questioning the symbols that turn citizens into blind followers.

Boston marathon Carlos Arredondo Carlos Arredondo is also a patriot because, being born in Costa Rica, he and his wife have made enormous efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking families in the U.S. who have suffered from the loss of relatives in a war initiated and promoted by the U.S. government. The same government that cared relatively little about fair immigration laws and related rights for Hispanic and other minorities in the U.S. Knowing that George W. Bush passed a law in 2004 to allow parents of those killed in action to become legal immigrants does not make it any better. In fact, how cynical is that? Only if you lose a child in a war you have demonstrated sufficient patriotism to deserve legal immigrant status? How about all the families with children wounded – physically or mentally? How about all the parents who allow their kids to go to war in the first place – for a country that does not even recognize them as legal residents? To me, supporting those families is not only a great human effort, but a true act of patriotism.

And Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not give up. So many people with a similar personal experience have lost hope or have become cynical. I do not know what has kept Carlos Arredondo from joining the club of the resigned and indifferent. It amazes me how he has maintained his belief in the spirit of America, in the spirit of the Boston Marathon, in the spirit of peace and understanding – when the time of war and U.S. military engagements is not over yet (or never will be).

Maybe the United States needs more people like Carlos Arredondo. But the fact alone that there are people in the U.S. like him, who carry a human spirit of patriotism, makes me hopeful and feel good about living in America – as a foreigner, like so many others, like Carlos Arredondo.

Further references

Wikipedia entry on Carlos Arredondo

Democracy Now! Featuring Carlos Arredondo (April 16 2013)

Article by Colonel Ann Wright: “More Costs of War: Suicides and Mental Trauma of Military Family Members”

American Red Cross Volunteering

U.S. News: “The man in the hat at Boston Marathon finish line: Carlos Arredondo didn’t set out to be hero” (April 15 2013)

Original source of the picture:

The Guardian: “Carlos Arredondo hailed as hero for Boston Marathon rescue efforts” (April 16 2013)