The death toll for the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh reached 500 yesterday. At least 501 people are dead.
I read in this Associated Press article that back in November (after 112 factory workers died in a fire), "clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry." Apparently, they didn't think consumers would be willing to pick up the extra costs.
I feel like I ought to say something about how it may be perfectly natural for us Americans to have a much stronger emotional response to the death of three people at a bombing of the Boston Marathon--after all, most of us know someone who has run in a marathon or have even run or watched one ourselves. But only the very tiniest percentage of Americans knows anyone who works in a sweatshop in Bangladesh. The vast majority of us cannot imagine what the lives of Bangladeshi factory workers are like at all.
And it's only to be expected that people would sincerely "wish there was something they could do to help" in the case of a national tragedy like the one in Boston--but that they'd have a very difficult time talking or even thinking about how their actions and choices might help to prevent future industrial disasters in developing nations.
I don't want to "preach" about this. I can't take a stand of righteous indignation, not least of all because I buy my clothes at thrift stores and Target; I have not myself taken the principled stand of purchasing only from fair-trade organizations or sewing my own clothing.
And, like I said, it's understandable and completely unsurprising that people would be callous and unmoved by the unimaginably horrendous accident in Bangladesh that they're still sorting through the rubble from right now. It's only to be expected that we all just want to put the responsibility on the Bangladeshi government--and it is their responsibility. But we are ignoring or justifying the role that we ourselves play in the system by purchasing cheap goods which we might have guessed were produced in sweatshops with unsafe working conditions. It's understandable. It's not surprising. But it's also sickening and sad and terrible.
Anyway, at least some folks think that major improvements in safety could be made in Bangladeshi factories without dramatically increasing prices. This article suggests that all it might take is some pressure from consumers on the brands they buy to start seeing some positive changes. Now all we need is some folks to start campaigns of making phone calls, writing letters and emails and signing petitions and stuff, right? Hm ...