Millennium Post

Savar disaster was inevitable

Savar disaster was inevitable
As the death toll from the garment factory building that collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh crossed 1,000 on Friday, with several hundreds more missing and injured in the humongous rubble and debris, news reports of yet another factory fire engulfing a sweater manufacturing installation came from the country. With no signs of the toll settling at thousand, and with bodies being recovered everyday taking the number of casualties to ever higher levels, the Savar tragedy is easily the world’s deadliest garment industry disaster and one of the worst industrial catastrophes that has made the national and international media sit up and take notice. Hardly an ‘accident’, the unimaginably calamitous Savar incident has cast the much-needed spotlight on the appalling conditions in which the workers, mostly women from the poorest strata of Bangladeshi society, are compelled to slog at these sweatshops. It is regrettable that Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, the clothing source for the majority of big brand global retailers, has been profiteering at the expense of the security and safety of the vulnerable workers, scores of whom have died in the recent disaster, which is rightly being compared to Chernobyl and Bhopal gas tragedies. Though government agencies have put the blame of the collapse of the Rana Plaza edifice on the shoddy construction work and substandard ingredients used in the building materials, human rights organisations and other watchdogs have squarely pointed out the abysmal state of the garment industry in the country, wherein the only way for the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to ensure a reasonable profit margin is to drastically bring down the cost of production, directly affecting the working conditions in these installations.

The crumpling of the Rana Plaza, a bustling market building in Savar, indicates that the bigger issue is that industrial safety regulations, a must in the West, are sidelined in the developing world, so as to stay afloat in the extremely competitive labour market that the global retailers exploit to the hilt to maximise their own profits. The only way to pass the tender is to be the lowest bidder, and provide the retail giants with made-to-perfection finished products at the cheapest rate. The unholy nexus of Western corporate bosses who buy the clothing items in bulk from these smaller manufacturing units, the political leaders who lobby for ever lower rates of production, albeit ensuring a mammoth chunk of commission for themselves, the loan sharks in the financial and banking sectors who supply easy credit but at escalated rates, make it almost inevitable that such mass-scale commercial activities only take place by flouting and manipulating existing laws, which are anyway too deficient to tackle the inadequacies of the system. Further, questions of how capable the state is to enforce the safety regulations and best practice codes, especially in the aftermath of such glaring contraventions of industry protocols, need to be asked as well. However, what is of utmost importance is to levy a tax on the importing global retailers so that the added revenue can be used to shore up security and safety measures in the workhouses that double up as death traps for the hapless workers.     
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