The cold calculation of clothing corporations

Monday, May 6, 2013   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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You see them in stores across our country and around the world: colorful and stylish clothing with happy-sounding brand names like Children's Place, Papaya, Joe Fresh, Free Style Baby, and Mango.

But you don't see the factories where these cheerful garments are made, nor are we shown the strained faces of the impoverished workers who make them, paid little more than a dollar a day for long, hard shifts. We only catch a glimpse of the grim reality sewn into these happy brands when yet another factory is in the news for collapsing or burning down, bringing a grotesque death to hapless workers trapped inside.

It's a horror that keeps happening. And after each one, the brand-name marketers and retail profiteers cluck with sympathy for the families of the dead and decry the "tragic accident." As Scott Nova of the Workers Rights Consortium put it after the most recent atrocity, when a Bangladesh factory collapsed and crushed thousands of garment workers, "The response is always the same: Vague promises and public relations dodges, while the pile of corpses grows even higher."

Is there something about clothing factories that makes them disaster magnets? Yes – the massive gravitational pull of corporate greed. Not merely the greed of sleazy factory owners, but most significantly the greed of such "respectable" retailers as Walmart, Benetton, GAP, and H&M. The April collapse in Bangladesh was not an "accident," but the inevitable result of a Western business model that demands such low prices from offshore suppliers that worker safety is their dead-last priority.

In the corporate hierarchy, death is coldly built into the consumer price and routinely accepted in the boardrooms as a justifiable means of adding another dime to the bottom line. For information and action, go to www.workersrights.org.

"The Most Hated Bangladeshi, Toppled From A Shady Empire," The New York Times, May 1, 2013.

"Retailers Split On Contrition After Collapse Of Factories," The New York Times, May 1, 2013.

"Worker Rights Consortium Update/Statement on Bangladesh Apparel Factory Disaster," www.werkersrights.org, April 25, 2013.

"Worker Rights Consortium Decries Latest Garment Factory Disaster in Bangladesh, Calls on Brands and Retailers to Sign Binding Building Safety Agreement and “Put an End to this Parade of Horror,”" www.workersrights.org, April 24, 2013.

"Why aren't Bangladesh factories safer?" www.msn.com, April 29, 2013.

"Deadly Collapse in Bangladesh," www.wsj.com, April 24, 2013.

"Death Toll Reaches over 400 in Bangladesh Factory Collapse," www.globallabourrights.org, April 29, 2013.

"Building Collapse in Bangladesh Kills Scores of Garment Workers, The New York Times, April 25, 2013.

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