Sometimes, corporate greed flares with such intensity that it ignites public outrage.
This happened in April when an eight-story, recklessly built clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh crashed. Hundreds of workers were crushed by slabs of concrete, having been ordered by the ruthless factory owner to continue working, even though the structure's collapse was imminent. Public rage at such scorn for the value of workers' lives led to mass protests across the country and the jailing of the owner. Good.
But what about his equally culpable cohorts— the CEOs of Wal-Mart, GAP and other retailing behemoths who've instilled this culture of greed throughout their global supply chain? They've dictated a corporate order that compels shortcuts on safety and rewards unscrupulous factory owners.
Wal-Mart and other major clothing marketers surged into Bangladesh in recent years specifically because it has the world's cheapest, least-protected laborers. Corporate bosses know that Bangladeshi factories are hell-holes where nightmares constantly come true.
Less than six months ago, a horrific fire in another factory in this same city killed 112 workers who were making clothing for these same giants. Wal-Mart subsequently responded by pledging "zero tolerance" for such haphazard manufacturing, loudly launching a $1.6 million worker safety academy in Bangladesh — and blah-blah-blah. It was pure, disgraceful, PR bullstuff — and it changed nothing.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart refuses to sign a legally binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement put forth by labor advocates. It would require the profiteers to make all their factories safe, open each one to independent inspectors — and stop their senseless tolerance for the serial killing of garment workers. For information on this agreement, go to tinyurl.com/labor-rights-Bangladesh and workersrights.org.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.