- (Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
In the days since the horrific garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, fingers have been pointing to the unsafe working conditions factory owners in the country subject their workers to. However, a leading trade group says that the blame lies squarely on western retailers, who insist on cutting costs.
Disney announced that it would be pulling its operations in the country where there have been a number of high-profile incidents involving worker deaths. The small southeast Asian country has highlighted a number of deficiencies regarding worker safety involved in outsourced manufacturing.
At issue is the constant focus on cutting costs by western retailers. Instead of considering how low production costs are depriving the manufacturers of funds that could be going to improve worker safety, companies are steadily looking to lower costs further and stay competitive.
Shahidullah Azim is the Vice President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the largest garment manufacturing trade group in the country. The organization has been advocating for buyers to pay more for the goods they want so that they can be made in safe and ethical conditions.
"The retailers only talk about ethical sourcing," Azim told the Huffington Post during an interview. "I think this is the time we start talking about ethical buying."
"How much less you could pay for a product?" he added. "How can a garment businessman keep up with this ever-increasing demand? Of course, by using every opportunity to minimize production costs -- paying workers less and not caring about workplace safety."
And that effect has been showcased in several tragic incidents: the collapse of a Rana Plaza factory killed more than 450 people and left many missing; a Tazreen fire killed 112 last year after workers could not escape because the exits had been locked. Those two are just a glimpse of the working conditions the poorest workers must endure.
Most of the workers who lost their lives making the clothes so many of us wear made a little less than two dollars a day. With few other options to earn any money at all, it is a gamble those factory workers must take every day at work.
Now, it seems some large western retailers are looking for other areas to conduct business, as Bangladesh could be becoming too big of a public relations risk.
Event though Disney will be pulling out of the country's garment market, Azim is unfazed, understanding that no other country can provide the amount of cheap labor Bangladesh can.
"I can assure you no country on earth can give cheaper labor than us," he said.