Something More than Sympathy

Before I started Glamour Owl I only gave a cursory glance to news stories of textile tragedies in foreign countries. I’d have only the slightest pause of something that with more time would have developed into sympathy.

Last November when news of 120 garment workers, mostly women, perished in fiery deaths because emergency exits were locked and fire extinguishers unavailable, I was horrified. I vowed never again to shop at WalMart, something that I rarely did anyway, and moved on. I understand the good WalMart does when it comes to bringing affordable goods to those who would otherwise not be able to own those goods, but they are know for profiting from sweat-shops in a long-term pattern.

Five months later, in April, again a factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing at least 430 workers. Now I felt grief and true outrage. This is my industry?! How and why is this happening? I wondered. But it has happened here too. In 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York was set ablaze by a dropped match. 146 people were killed, many jumping to their deaths from the 8th and 9th floors. The public was outraged and industry standards in the US were forever changed.

In developmental economics you learn that when a country is undergoing industrialization, the first industry that is developed is clothing manufacturing. I say industry implying value added as opposed to export of fungible commodities like agricultural products or mining. Did you know that clothing production is the first manufacturing strategy of any developing nation? As such, there is nothing in the way of means testing or infrastructure or even, ways to assess the solidity of infrastructure because it is so broad to include things like available power, water, proximity to transportation -much less political stability and social customs. So forget such lofty goals like building inspectors; the nation is too focused on generating export income. And having no money, how could they afford inspectors? Sure they can be homegrown but with so little experience in industrialization, what kind of meaningful experience can be learned and taught?

It’s natural to look at the horror in Bangladesh and weigh a vow never to buy another t-shirt sewn in that country. But no one suffers more from a boycott than the impoverished workers for whom even an unsafe job is better than no job at all.

Better to press our retailers, our fashion brands, our investors, and our governments to use their influence — their power — with foreign leaders to promote the idea that corruption is not just a moral problem; it’s bad business. Killing workers is no way to build an economy, nor will a system of bribes and spoils ever lift a nation to lasting prosperity.

Triangle Factory Fire 1911

Triangle Factory Fire 1911

Rana Plaza Building, Bangladesh 2013

Rana Plaza Building, Bangladesh 2013

20,000 Garment Workers Strike for Change

20,000 Garment Workers Strike for Change

Bangladesh Garment Workers Stage Protest

Bangladesh Garment Workers Stage Protest

Be mindful and as always,

GO with love.

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