The conundrum presented by the Bangladeshi building collapse

By now you probably realize that there is a company in China with a factory where most of the electronics in the world are manufactured. If you own an HP, Dell, Apple, or Sony desktop or laptop; if you own an iPhone or Android phone or Blackberry; or if you own a sound system, it was probably made in the Chinese FoxConn factory. Working conditions there are poor. 

However, FoxConn is a heavenly paradise by comparison with some garment manufacturing facilities in Third World countries. A recent 9-story building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh has resulted in a death toll of 400 and still counting. Apparently, several different garment contractors used the building to run sweatshops. 

The owner of the building was caught fleeing Bangladesh to India (which likely would have handed him back to Bangladesh anyway, had he been caught there). 

Now, the finger-pointing begins. 

To be sure, the building owner will get a lot of blame for operating a building that was, well, collapsible. But how much did he know? Was the construction company at fault for not following architect plans to the letter, or were their raw materials suppliers at fault for delivering substandard building materials. What about the architects?: did they cut corners in design to keep costs down (and in a poor country like Bangladesh, costs are always a consideration)?

Then, going in the other direction, how much blame should be laid on the doorstep of companies like Walmart, Sears, Target and others who, even if their products weren't manufactured in this specific building, contract to have products manufactured in similarly unsafe circumstances?

Do American companies have a responsibility to workers working under contract in other countries? or is this the business of the people and governments there?

Tags: Bangladesh, building, collapse

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Excellent question. It's relevant to our own working conditions, economy, and whole-world conditions.

Several years ago, I saw American economic decline as becoming possible when (mostly) Asian countries started building up their manufacturing abilities, using low wage workers. American capitalists outsourced production to Asia, solely for higher profit, and then in many later cases for company survival. American production and its workforce took the hit, while politicians and media sheep only talked about which American partisan to blame (for all kinds of uninformed reasons).

So, to a large extent, production and worker conditions around the world have a tendency to equalize, as it globalizes. Our middle class workers can't compete with slave labor; we all have a difficult time adjusting.

As for improving health and conditions around the world in general, it takes more than profit motive for good planning. We can't expect capitalists to voluntarily raise priority on social issues at the expense of their profits. The only real powers we have are in trade agreements, and informed consumers that require higher level working conditions where the products we buy from are produced.

To take this ideal step further (which is even more unlikely to happen), we could head a lot of the damaging consequences off ahead of time, with better (or stricter?) planning of investments. A lot of the tragedy in Haiti could have been averted if caring people invested in their 3rd world infrastructure instead of having to deal with tragic aftereffects. Likewise, China isn't just going to exploit their own labor forces, but they're expanding into poor areas--especially Africa--to exploit resources and cheap labor, while also ruining environments.

I'm pessimistic about what Americans will do to understand these problems, much less implement socio-political solutions.

Excellent question. It's relevant to our own working conditions, economy, and whole-world conditions.

Several years ago, I saw American economic decline as becoming possible when (mostly) Asian countries started building up their manufacturing abilities, and hiring low wage workers. American capitalists outsourced production to Asia, solely for higher profit, and then in many later cases for company survival. American production and its workforce took the hit, while politicians and media sheep only talked about which American partisan to blame.

Politicians extolled (and still extoll the benefits of free trade.

So, to a large extent, production and worker conditions around the world have a tendency to equalize, as it globalizes. Our middle class workers can't compete with slave labor; we all have a difficult time adjusting.

Defenders of undocumented field workers defend the practice of hiring them by saying that they do work Americans don't want to do. Which is partly true: Americans don't want to work at far below what is considered a living wage and under outdoor sweatshop conditions where there are few legal protections. Who can blame them. If undocumented farm workers were treated and paid fairly and worked under conditions well scrutinized by government enforcement agencies, a lot of Americans would welcome working outdoors in fresh air.

As for improving health and conditions around the world in general, it takes more than profit motive for good planning. We can't expect capitalists to voluntarily raise priority on social issues at the expense of their profits. The only real powers we have are in trade agreements, and informed consumers that require higher level working conditions where the products we buy from are produced.

But at the same time, insisting on conditions in foreign factories approaching those enforced in American workplaces (even granting how insufficient those can be) might simply take food out of the mouths of those workers as many of their jobs migrated back to the United States or Japan or other countries with higher working condition standards.

To take this ideal step further (which is even more unlikely to happen), we could head a lot of the damaging consequences off ahead of time, with better (or stricter?) planning of investments. A lot of the tragedy in Haiti could have been averted if caring people invested in their 3rd world infrastructure instead of having to deal with tragic aftereffects. Likewise, China isn't just going to exploit their own labor forces, but they're expanding into poor areas--especially Africa--to exploit resources and cheap labor, while also ruining environments.

I'm pessimistic about what Americans will do to understand these problems, much less implement socio-political solutions.

And we need to be careful of unintended consequences, such as turning exploited workers working under unsafe conditions into people with no income whatsoever.

RE: "And we need to be careful of unintended consequences, such as turning exploited workers working under unsafe conditions into people with no income whatsoever."

Here, you confuse me - where was that concern when American companies moved jobs overseas, turning many Americans into, "people with no income whatsoever"?

What confuses you? Did I say something confusing?

Yes, that you would put your concerns for the economic welfare of others ahead of our own workers.

When I hear anything about Bangladesh I can only think of news like this. Fuck that place.

Thanks for getting me all worked up.

I'm with ya, double-fuck that place..........wait......let me clam down a bit......I'm better now......that story was about as sick as it can get.

Fucking Barbarism. I'm gonna go and work off my anger after reading that.

Gregg - If that worked you up, it's a good thing you didn't read the piece a week or so ago about the group of religious freaks in South America, who tied a 9-day old baby girl to a board, taping her mouth so they couldn't hear her scream, and threw her into a fire because their leader told them she was the spawn of Satan.


DAMN!!!

Makes you wish that hell really did exist.

For some, it does, and some of us are the demons:

Newborn Baby Savagely Burned To Death In Bonfire By Cult Leader

Police have arrested four people involved in the death of a newborn baby, 3 days old, after she was burned alive in a religious ritual in Chile. The cult responsible for the gruesome killing was led by Ramon Gustavo Castillo Gaete, 36, who is still at large.

Before the tragic murder, the baby was placed on a board and had her mouth tapped shut to muffle her dying screams, according to the Daily Mail. Miguel Ampuero, of the Police investigative Unit, revealed the horrifying conditions in which they found the baby.

“The baby was naked. They strapped tape around her mouth to keep her from screaming,” Miguel told the Daily Mail. “Then they placed her on a board. After calling on the spirits they threw her on the bonfire alive.”

The ritual took place on Nov. 21 on a hill in Colliguay, a town near the Chilean port of Valparaiso.

Natalia Guerra, the 25-year-old mother of the slain girl, was a member of the cult, and had allegedly approved the horrific ritual.

The baby had allegedly been murdered because the cult leader believed she was the antichrist — and the end of the world was near. Ramon led the 12-member cult, which was formed in 2005. Miguel said the cult was made up of a group of professionals, all of whom held university degrees.

He is still on the run, although he was last seen traveling to Peru in order to by a hallucinogen to control his members.

You left one out, UnOne - are we, the American consumer, responsible, for blindly accepting the lowest prices for products, instead of caring where and under what conditions they originated?

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