The following editorial appeared recently in the Kansas City Star:
Poorly paid Third-World workers are dying — literally — to produce low-cost clothing that's sold at leading retailers around the United States and the world.
The latest tragedy to strike the low-wage garment industry in Bangladesh was also one of the most horrific in years. Almost 400 people were killed when an eight-story building collapsed last week. Just five months earlier, a fire in a garment factory killed more than 100 people in that nation. In both cases, employee safety was an afterthought of the buildings' owners.
Last Wednesday morning, more than 3,000 people were inside Rana Plaza when some workers saw cracks in the building. But its owner — who is politically well connected — claimed: "There is nothing serious. It will stand for a hundred years." Instead, it soon fell down; police caught the owner Sunday as he tried to flee to India.
Unfortunately, owners of many overseas garment factories are more interested in squeezing extra money out of their operations and less inclined to take worker protection seriously. So the profitable Western retailers that buy all of this low-cost clothing must more aggressively promote employee safety.
The companies should conduct more on-site visits to these factories. They ought to insist on higher levels of worker protection and wages for employees. Retailers should reject buying from factory owners who don't meet stricter safety standards.
Many Bangladesh citizens are outraged by last week's disaster. Rightly so, they expect their government officials to insist on more humane working conditions.
The concerns of these citizens and garment industry workers must be taken seriously, not just in Bangladesh but in corporate boardrooms around the globe.