New Orleans The collective corporate failure to act decisively and preemptively to guarantee safe working conditions in textile supply factories is making a mockery of any and all claims of corporate social responsibility in these industries. Following the death of hundreds by fire in Bangladesh recently, a factory collapsed in recent days marking one of the most terrible and tragic manufacturing disasters in history with a death count already past 250 people.
The public is now drowning in a sea of “too little, too late” expressions of corporate sympathy from western conglomerates, who are only proving that their version of rapacious capitalism still calculates that it is cheaper to send a pittance after the funeral than to pay the added pennies for prevention and safe workplaces. It is past imagining that paying an extra fifty cents for a shirt or pair of jeans isn’t more than worth it to guarantee that we can clean the bloodstains out of the clothes we are wearing.
In the current tragedy companies will have more trouble blaming loose inspections by Bangladeshi government officials and police. The government had ordered the building closed and told the owner not to open. Workers had reported the cracks opening up in the building walls. Television crews had shown footage of the problem the day before the collapse. Two policemen sent to talk to the owner went into the building to order it closed and are still missing and likely among the victims. Nonetheless with companies demanding that orders be filled or contracts lost, workers needing to work to be paid, and jobbers trying to stay in business, all the makings existed to creating a complete disaster of “affordable risks” and deadly consequences.
Reading the accounts of companies pretending to act and posing as if they have all of the time in the world to spin rather than solve these problems is infuriating. Take this from the Times:
Pressure continued to build on Western companies that had promised after a deadly fire in November to take steps to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi factories that make the goods the companies sell. Activists combing through the rubble here have already discovered labels and documents linking the factories to major European and American brands, like the Children’s Place, Benetton, Cato Fashions, Mango and others. PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer, have endorsed a plan in which Western retailers would finance fire safety efforts and structural upgrades in Bangladeshi factories — although they first want other companies to sign on. Walmart has refused to join that effort. But, in January, it announced that it would demand that factories quickly correct any safety violations and would dismiss any contractor that uses unapproved or unsafe factories. Two weeks ago, Walmart pledged $1.8 million to establish a health and safety institute in Bangladesh to train 2,000 factory managers about fire safety.
It is time to stop pretending and preening. These companies cannot safely manage their businesses, contractors and subcontractors abroad and they are proving it with blood. Until they are able to prove differently, we must boycott all of their clothing or carry on ourselves the same stench of death that has soaked through these brands.