According to news reports, millions of items of clothing were manufactured in a single building in the city of Savar, in the heart of Bangladesh. When that building collapsed on April 24, 2013, more than 350 workers died as a result of that collapse; almost all women between the ages of 18-20. More than 1000 were injured. Over three thousand workers labored in that building, purportedly working for wages of 26 cents per hour or less. Before 2010, when the minimum wage was increased in Bangladesh from $21 per month to $38 per month, their wages would have been less.
This is not an isolated tragedy. Five months earlier, on November 24, 2012, more than 100 workers were killed when a fire engulfed another garment factory in Savar. The clothing manufactured in those buildings was shipped from the factories for sale in Europe, Canada and the United States.
The highly reputable international charity, Oxfam, has stated that:
“We can make choices that will make a difference. So too can retailers. The easiest thing is to choose not to see the story behind the brands, but we can also choose to buy clothes that are the products of transparent and non-abusive supply chains. Retailers can choose to do the same, and can hold their suppliers to account–not least by ensuring they respect standard safety measures that protect their workers lives.”
This is not the first time our blog has written about the challenges of buying U.S. made products and products made in other countries by businesses that agree to comply with international treaties designed to protect workers. These treaties include the United Nations Global Compact and SA8000.
These treaties were designed to set standards for global companies involving human rights, the environment, anti-corruption and ethical labor standards. It is a challenge, however, to identify consumer products that are made by companies that have agreed to these principles: provide humane working conditions, treat their employees with dignity, provide safe working conditions and pay reasonable wages.
If the two of us have clothing in our closets that are made in factories like those where workers have been killed, it is not because we turn a blind eye. It is a sad circumstance that it remains difficult to find products made in the U.S. and even more difficult to identify products made abroad according to international treaties.
Perhaps our blog can focus more of our attention to the challenges we face as consumers to support businesses where workers are treated humanely.
The opinions expressed in this post are not the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.