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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