Talking Politics: A tragic waste of life

The recent Bangladesh building collapse, which saw hundreds lose their life, was a terrible tragedy of the most human kind.

People working in poor conditions, for little pay, to earn a living and put food and water on their family’s table. They deserved better than to perish in the rubble of a building not fit for purpose.

This was a tragic and yet so avoidable waste of life.

And it raises wider issues about the values and priorities of some Western clothes retailers. The monitoring of manufacturers working conditions could certainly have more of an ethical approach. The humans buried amongst fallen stones would have been working in Dickensian conditions at best. Long hours. Little rest. Poor pay. All in the name of reducing costs and maximising profits.

Not for a minute are the clothes retailing companies to blame for the building collapsing; yet if a new code was drawn up, requiring basic standards of health and safety, this might have been avoided.

The very reason that countries like Bangladeshi are used to manufacture clothes is because of low-cost labour. Until many of the major retail companies realise that more could and should be done to improve working conditions, other tragedies will happen.

It’s time for improved employment practices, decent wages and terms and conditions. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Detroit or Dhaka, it’s time for Western clothes brands to make agreements with employee organisations. Unless factories sign up to basic employment practices, then quite simply they should not be used.

In 2013 it is unbelievable some major western brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions.

Each tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring has failed to protect workers. Last week’s pictures from Bangladesh should put an end to these unethical and unworthy practices.