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?

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I was coming to that. 

Sorry if I eclipsed you (though you should be used to it by now), but I just didn't have all day for you to get your wit together.

I don't want to use up all my material at once.

So we can expect single-sentence comments, followed by, "To be continued --"?

Corporate officers also have a legal obligation to maximize the profitability of their operations. Within the law, of course.

What makes you think that operating within the law is a priority for corporate officers.  Not getting caught is the priority.

RE: "it is often impossible to know which company produced what products, because they often go through several hands before reaching the American companies."

Then shouldn't they make full disclosure, regarding those hands, a part of their manufacturing agreement?

Lay the blame entirely on those who prefer to purchase their inexpensive items.

Recently, I bought a Squier Stratocaster guitar made in Indonesia (Squier is the budget guitar division of Fender). I have no way of knowing what the conditions are in the factory there, but I can say that the product shows every sign of being manufactured with pride. I paid $300 for it. An equivalent American-made Fender Stratocaster runs about $2000 or more and is really not so much better that it's worth the additional $1700. You'd have a hard time telling them apart except for the logo on the headstock.

I could maybe start saving my nickles and dimes and buy an American-made, but in so doing I'm not doing the poor Indonesian workers any favors. They are feeding their families by making guitars. If the Fender guitar company could make a guitar here for $600, I'd consider it, but not $2000. I don't think most of the $1700 difference is accounted for by the wages of the American workers. I think a lot of it is gouging by Fender who appeal to misplaced patriotism and convert it into piles of cash.

Lay some of the blame back on the American capitalists.

Perhaps, though "made in America" usually means "from parts manufactured wherever, probably Asia," and I can't imagine that with many of the parts pre-made and merely ready for assembly, very many American man-hours go into the cost of a guitar. 

Also, at least an imported guitar brings some bucks into the U.S. economy and helps some American workers while putting food on a foreign worker's table, whereas a guitar that's not bought because it's so expensive doesn't seem to benefit anyone.

brings some bucks into the U.S. economy

I like this reasoning. I also apply it in support of bio-fuels, in that it's better to pay our farmers for real production than to pay other (often corrupt) countries to extract oil for us. (I know that also increases food prices, but I see it as a better trade-off, in our longterm economic health.)

I suppose yours is a good issue, but I wouldn't narrow it to merely that one.

I wish we could just stick all the issues into a spreadsheet as numbers, and statistically compare them. I guess the most effective solution might be whichever one is easiest for the right movers and shakers to implement.

The article contains an interesting obfuscation by the American Petroleum Institute, and doesn't go into the most important issue, our future return on investment.


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