What is the real cost of the inexpensive underwear and t-shirts at Walmart? Potentially, thousands of lives.
An eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh that had contracts with Walmart and Dress Barn, among other retailers, has collapsed. The death toll, comprising mostly young female workers, has climbed to over 200. Thousands more people were injured in the collapse, and workers say that the cracks in the building have been evident for a number of weeks, but they were still forced by supervisors to go to work. This comes only five months after a fire at another Bangladesh factory, which also contracted with Walmart, killed 112 people. Right now, angry workers in Bangladesh are protesting in the streets about the lax regulation and standards for factories that allowed these tragedies to occur. The time has come for the Americans who buy these inexpensive garments with a high cost in human life to fight back as well.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothing exporter, drawing the business of multinational retail chains with its extremely low labor costs (the minimum wage is only $37 a month). Most retail chains use private monitors to make sure that the factories they buy from are meeting labor standards. However, these external monitors cannot legally mandate changes in the practices, and since factories are often so far away, retailers can easily let matters of worker safety fall by the wayside. Garment production in Bangladesh is also quite competitive; many labor-rights activists contend that when retailers like Walmart are constantly shifting production to factories with lower costs, they are incentivizing corner-cutting that practically guarantees poor worker safety and quality of life.
As consumers who benefit from unfair labor practices in Bangladesh through the inexpensive prices we pay, it’s time for us to speak out and demand that the much-touted corporate responsibility programs that businesses like Walmart hold up as their commitment to worker rights are actually implemented. This goes not only for those who have been victimized in Bangladesh, but also for the workers here in the United States, whose low pay and unfair treatment is perhaps better than in other nations, but equally unfair considering Walmart’s gross profit. The profit of a single company must not be prioritized over the safety and well-being of workers around the world, and as consumers, we must express this to those who would cut corners to earn a buck.