What we shall learn from the Bangladesh fire accident?

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1. Is corporate social responsibility a problem ONLY in developing countries?

How ethical is  clothing “made in UK” or “made in USA”? Suggested reading:

ANALYSIS – How ethical is UK manufacturing? (Textile Month International, 2012)

Sweatshops Are Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret. But They Don’t Exist in L.A. — Do They? (2012)

2. As a consumer, shall we be responsible for something too?

Isn’t that we always want better quality products at lower price and delivered at faster speed? Because clothing retail is such a highly competitive buyer-driven business, in order to meet our “demand”, isn’t companies have to find a way to increase product quality, shorten production time, frequently change design patterns but stick to the old delivery schedule and lower sourcing cost? Can we say the “race to the bottom” CRS practice in clothing factories has nothing to do with us as consumers?

3. Some people suggest: since there are so many ethical problems in developing countries, why not we just move apparel manufacturing back to the US or EU?

 If you ask these garment workers in Bangladesh, they would tell you that despite the horrible working conditions, they still feel “happy” to work there. Before working for the garment factory, their life was even worse—because of poverty and limited opportunity available to them. For example, for many young females in the least developing countries, if they do not work for garment factories, the other place for them to go is prostitution. We need to think about this question: if the Bangladesh factory was forced to close (Western brands no longer give them the order), what would happen to its workers?

4. Why internationally we still have no official labor standard, despite we have international organizations such as ILO, WTO, World Bank and United Nations out there as well as many international rules in other areas?

The nature of the problem is very similar as the ongoing global climate change negotiation. Countries are at different stages of development and what seems “ethical” may not necessarily fit for another country’s national conditions.

But still, everyone has a role to play to improve the status quo and create a better world, no matter as a consumer, professional working in the T&A industry, scholar or policy maker.

Sheng Lu

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

6 thoughts on “What we shall learn from the Bangladesh fire accident?”

  1. Referring back to the Bangladesh garment factory fire case study, I think that it is unethical to treat workers differently and poorly just because they are used to being in harsh work environments. Corporate social responsibility is a problem all over the world, in my opinion. From this case study, we saw that not only did the higher-ups at the Bangladesh garment factory improperly train their workers in the event of a fire or other emergency, but there were also not enough exits or stairways, and Walmart denied having ever received garments from that factory after being questioned once the news about the factory fire came to light. I felt that the head persons at the factory should have allowed more training for the workers, as well as abide by building safety codes, and that Walmart should make sure that these people are working under proper safety conditions for their own name’s sake if nothing else. As far as consumers are concerned, while some will not buy products if they know that they came from a place with harsh conditions, the majority of consumers are going to be more concerned with how much money they are spending, especially in today’s economy. As unethical as that may be, it is unfortunately reality.
    I think that the world will never be a level playing field and there will always be developed and developing countries. With that said, however, there should be international labor standards that carry over from country to country to ensure that workers are being treated properly. I know this idea is far-fetched and will take a very long time to work out the kinks and put into effect, but if people really started showing it is considered a big issue, I think some type of standard, even if produced in steps, could be achieved.

  2. I completely agree with the karaguarino4’s post. I personally enjoyed doing the case study about the Bangladesh fire accident because it opened my eyes to the unfortunately unknown working conditions over seas. Because companies look for the cheapest costs, the concern about the working environment is not as prominent as it should be. It is the sad truth that the majority of consumers do not think or care where their clothes come from. One major issue that people are thinking about it how to save money. I believe that there needs to be enforcement on the regulations. Since these working conditions are seen in developing countries, its hard to have labor laws enforced when there isn’t a great deal of money.

    I found it hard to distinguish who is to blame because there are a lot of companies that do not even know they are getting their clothes manufactured in a dangerous, unhealthy place because of the numerous subcontractors in between. I want to say that the people who run the work sight should be blamed because they did not take the precautions that they should have during the situation. Companies need to be aware of whom they are doing business with and make sure that their labor standards should be mandatory over seas. But even then, our working conditions and labor laws may be different in other economies and it would be hard to attempt to change them, especially when there is not enough money to go around to fix these problems.

  3. I also agree with the two comments above. Doing the first case study about the Bangladesh fire accident was great because I think it opened the eyes to the whole class because many people did not know how the working conditions in the factories are like overseas. Companies first concern is to get a factory that has the lowest labor costs and will produce their apparel the fastest. They do not look at what kind of work conditions their future employers are going to be working in. So many people died in that factory and I believe that companies should start looking into the factory working conditions a little more. Yes, I do know that companies are trying to save money and that is why they are going overseas were they have longer work hours and can produce clothing much faster than in the U.S. There needs to be more enforced regulations to help the environment and the workers in the factories.
    We mentioned in class during our case study it is hard to blame one person for this fire. I know my group stated that we believe the blame should be put on the factory manager because he or she is the one in charge of everything that goes on in that certain factory. Like is said before companies first concern is to get the lowest cost factory to produce their apparel. So it is not the U.S. companies’ jobs to inspect factory but I do believe that the companies should be an understanding about the conditions in the factory that they picked. Kwhittmore1 mentioned that even though that is a good idea for companies’ to know the working standards if can be difficult because the factories might have the money to fix those standards.

  4. I think that this article and presentation that we did in class was exceptional because until now, I don’t think we realize how much we really have to do with what goes on around the world. Although we may not live in Bangladesh, because we buy products from companies that use these unkept factories in other countries, we are supporting the awful events that happen. First, I think it is important to buckle down and understand fully where our products are being sent and who is making them. In the article, I remember that some companies did not even know where their products were being made because they outsource the job to one person, who outsources it to another, and then there is a scrambled track to who really is taking care of the job. There needs to be stricker laws to enforce that each company that does outsource a job, they are full responsible for anything that happens over sees because they are allowing it by paying for it. Second, the owner of the factory is responsible, it is irresponsible to knowingly allow people to work in an environment that it is unsafe and not up to code. The factory did not have enough fire alarms, they did not have adequate organizing methods that require the fabric to be stored in a separete location then where they are being made and the managers on hand said to keep working. If we are going to outsource jobs to these countries than we have to consider how is it effecting the workers. Because of these horrific situations, we have to understand that this job atleast keeps them off the streets that may have presuaded them to be involved in something worse.

  5. After just reading the most recently posted article about another fire, it makes you wonder if these workers truly are “happy” with working in the conditions they are put through. When you place such heavily proposed working conditions on a large group of inexperienced workers, they are not going to know how to react in situations like these. It really makes you think if domestically manufacturing would work. The prices to produce domestically in the US and Europe would make the price of items in the T&A industry sky rocket and potentially we would fall once again into a large debt. We don’t want these nations to be falling into debt because they want to produce domestically, but that is a problem that arises when you have to pay factory workers a large minimum wage compared to the $37 a month workers are obtaining in Bangladesh. It also brings up the issue of blaming certain companies. As we learned during the case study, we are placing a large amount of blame on companies that are sourcing through these factories. Is that something that we can truly blame them for? Is Walmart really responsible for the fire that broke out and killed hundreds? Even though we need somewhere to place the blame, is it going to further prevent these fires from happening if we are blaming CEOs that work in an entirely different part of the world? We want these fires to stop and by putting blame on people who live in the Western world, it is not going to fix the issue. We need a liason between the two places that are willing to do check-ups on these factories so situations like these can be avoided, or at least people will be able to safely get off the premises.

  6. This brings be back to the first case study we did, which we also discussed a similar situation with similar questions. Most people aren’t aware of these terrible working conditions, so I don’t think they should be at blame. Most just see something for a good price and don’t thin anything further past that. Until reading more into it, I didn’t ever think about it. I also don’t believe that the workers are happy, yes they may be working in a slightly better working condition than in the past, but its still not the greatest. Instead of pin pointing who to blame I think that these designers who get these clothing made at these sweatshops, factory owners, and even consumers if they care, should come together to find a solution.

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