In recent years the claim of ethical production has permeated the marketing campaigns of many clothing industries. But the global corporation is far from innocent when it comes to the exploitation of workers and weak governance in the Third World. We’re just not paying enough attention.
In recent years Bangladesh, a Southeast Asian country, has been flooded with multinational corporations eager to take advantage of its plentiful cheap labor. On April 24th 2013 a building collapse in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, led to the death of 1000 workers and the injury of 1000 more. The building at Rana Plaza was created with substandard materials and a complete disregard for building codes. The owner of the factory had illegally constructed upper floors to house more workers and placed large power generators on the upper floor. When turned on these generators would shake the entire building. The day before the disaster cracks appeared in the walls and workers fled the building. When they arrived the next morning they were apprehensive to enter but the managers told them they would be fired if they didn’t go inside. When the workers entered they were told to get to work because there was a lot to be done. Hours later the building collapsed.
In the wake of this tragedy and its analysis a year later the media has written extensively on the faults of the Bangladeshi government and factory owners. The Bangladeshi authorities, apparently bribed by the wealthy owners of the factories allowed the building of the Plaza despite obvious construction violations. The factory owners themselves bypassed building regulations in order to increase production capacity (more floors can house more workers).
Yet this drive for more workers and more production is inevitably linked to the biggest players in this puzzle- the multinational corporations. It’s obvious that without the demand for products by the corporations and Western consumers Bangladeshi production wouldn’t exist so why has the role of the corporations been so grossly overlooked?
I think one of the reasons is the idea that corporations have done all they could in order to ensure safety. Many people believe that because of their complex supply chains corporations are unable to adequately oversee each site of production. This view is wrong. Corporations both have the resources and personnel to conduct more regulations in their international sites. While some claim it’s adequate for corporations to have seen the building certificates from Bangladeshi authorities others argue that corporations have the responsibility to check every pillar in the building. As institutions which employee thousands of people I think corporations should inspect the sites from which they outsource themselves instead of relying on government inspection.
Corporations now employ more people in more countries than ever before. The earnings of many corporations are higher than those of some governments and their oversight capacity is huge.
Factory and garment workers are human beings just like the CEOs of large corporations and their lives are no less valuable. In light of so many disasters like the one in Bangladesh, it’s time to start realizing the power of corporations to make a change. Corporations can ensure workers’ rights and safety and they should. Not because it’s their corporate social responsibility but because no human being should fear dying at the workplace every single day.