Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Pope Francis I Condemns "Slave Labor" Conditions

The world reacted with horror in the wake of the factory collapse in Dhaka, the capital Bangladesh, that killed at least 413 people and injured 2,500 with a death toll expected to rise as the rubble from the collapse is cleared. Condemnations of the factory owners' utter disregard for the health and safety of their workers and labor conditions that led that the disaster poured in from across the glove. The latest and most prominent voice to add to the growing chorus of disapproval was Pope Francis I, who condemned the conditions of the workers as "slave labour."

Pope Francis said he was shocked when he learned of the collapse and the conditions of the workers. The harsh remarks from the pontiff come amid a growing storm of criticism and debate over labor conditions that led to this disaster.

Francis had very harsh words in a mass he gave on May 1, the feast of Saint Joseph, patron saint of workers. Francis remarked that "A headline that impressed me so much the day of the Bangladesh tragedy, 'Living on 38 euros a month': this was the payment of these people who have died ... And this is called 'slave labor!"

Francis's sermon addressed large issues of working conditions, rallying against exploitation in the workplace and the ideology that allows such exploitation to take place. In his sermon he said, "Not paying a just [wage], not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit. That goes against God!"

As a cardinal, Francis has made statements that could be considered anti-capitalist in the past. Unlike in the United States where the church is often seen through the lens of social issues, in countries such as Francis's native Argentina, the Church takes positions on economic matters. One such movement was liberation theology, an interpretation of scripture that finds that Jesus Christ's teachings preach in favor of fighting for liberation from unjust economic, political, and social conditions. Its critics have accused the movement of being Christian Marxism.

Francis argued against liberation theology as a cardinal, but also made statements such as saying that the International Monetary Fund's debt policies towards the third world are "immoral" while simultaneously blasting the "tyranny of the markets."

Pope Francis was far from the only one criticizing the situation surrounding the Bangladeshi factory collapse. The European Union issued a statement that it "is very concerned about the labour conditions, including health and safety provisions, established for workers in factories across the country."

The EU also said that it was considering taking action through the Generalized System of Preferences trade schema to promote responsible supply chains in developing countries. Currently, Bangladesh receives duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market.

As the true scale of the tragedy in Bangladesh become worse with each passing day, worldwide condemnation grows. But with Pope Francis utilizing his pulpit as one of the key moral voices in the world, he brings to light questions about how justly capitalism works in this day and age.

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Gabriel Rodriguez

Gabriel Rodriguez is currently studying for a Masters in Applied Economics at Georgetown. He is a graduate of New College of Florida with a degree in Economics. He is interested in econometrics, statistical analysis, behavioral economics, and developmental economics.

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