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By Robyn Blumner
This season of giving, charity and "goodwill towards men" is also when Americans will buy millions of dollars' worth of clothes for themselves and others that were made in Bangladesh by workers in crowded, unsafe sweatshops getting paid a minimum wage of
We should care more than we do about this contradiction.
The Bangladeshis' plight has caught the world's attention for a brief moment due to the recent factory fire outside of Dhaka, where 112 garment workers died producing clothes for Western retailers such as
The facts are eerily reminiscent of the
Maybe now, over a century later, there will be an equally satisfying result from the Bangladesh fire, though I doubt it. Bangladesh lures business with its "race to the bottom" wages and loose regulations. Like rats to a garbage dump, global retailers have rushed in, making Bangladesh the world's second leading garment exporter.
The sad, enduring truth is that exploitation is good for business. Mistreating workers has proven an almost irresistible economic model throughout human history. What's unforgivable is that the U.S. continues to allow robust trade with countries that embrace the practice.
Even ostensibly pro-worker Democrats pay little more than lip-service to workers' rights abroad. When Secretary of State
And the Obama administration could help. It could enforce its Generalized System of Preferences agreement with Bangladesh that promises workers "acceptable" wages and safety conditions as well as the right to organize. But the administration has done little to breathe life into those provisions, according to
We're going backward on a promise of basic, shared humanity.
Some Americans think that people in poor countries are lucky to have any kind of job, even if the hours are punishing and the pay is so paltry that it barely affords subsistence. It's a self-serving attitude, since we reap the rewards with cheap goods. But deep down, do we really think it's okay for teenage girls and women, the bulk of garment workers, to work 14 hours or more per day, six or seven days a week, for as little as
Their world is not that far removed from that of "
So, too, are the poor kept down today in Bangladesh and places like it, not due to their own lack of industry, but as unwritten national policy where governments conspire with corporate powers to extract labor on the cheap. We could change this. But it would take Americans caring about it at least as much as, say, what to get their dog for Christmas.
112 Killed in Fire at Bangladesh Garment Factory
Fire raced through a garment factory that supplies major retailers in the West, killing at least 112 people, many of whom were trapped by the flames because the building lacked emergency exits
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