by Mary Sanchez
Another apparel factory has collapsed in a poor Asian country, killing three workers, and I fear I'm partly to blame.
The evidence of my complicity sits idle on the landing, next to a tennis racquet.
It's unclear at this writing whether my particular make of
Workers said pieces of concrete fell on their heads before the ceiling caved. Reportedly, dense, heavy materials had been stored on recently constructed mezzanine floors. An assistant manager told the
This tragedy pales in comparison to the more than 1,120 deaths from April's collapse at a
Labor protections for foreign workers who supply the U.S. with goods will be among the greatest human rights struggles of this generation. And it's not an easy problem to address. In the case of many brands -- my
The kneejerk reaction of many consumers who are horrified at worker abuses is to apply economic pressures such as boycotts. But these have pitfalls. If the net effect is that large brands void contracts with certain suppliers, rather than working with them to improve conditions, such high-minded activism just results in yanking jobs from people a hemisphere away -- people who subsist on the wages these jobs provide.
The same day as the Cambodian ceiling crashed, news was spreading of the first substantial corporate responses to the deaths at
Other U.S. companies declined to sign the agreement devised by labor groups, citing concerns about liability, lack of enforcement and checks to ensure the money would be well spent.
Here's the catch:
How perfect is that?
American consumers and companies are part of the problem, and we have to be a greater part of the solutions. Our consumer economy has evolved into a system of elongated chains of manufacturers and suppliers that have little incentive to perform better for the workers at the bottom and every incentive to perform better for shareholders and owners.
Consumers need to keep pressing these companies to follow through on their ethical commitments and codes of conduct. We need to make it clear that responsibility for poor working conditions and safety lapses rests with them, not just with third parties overseas.
U.S. companies are savvy enough to figure out how to build profitable businesses by sourcing product from all over the world. Surely they can be equally adept at finding solutions to conditions that threaten the safety, the very lives, of workers.