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Prompted by the November fire that killed more than 100, the Walt Disney Company had decided to stop having its products manufactured in Bangladesh before last week's building collapse that killed more than 400. Not even one percent of factories manufacturing Disney products are in Bangladesh, Steven Greenhouse reports, but the company is also withdrawing from other countries with poor safety conditions:
With some labor groups urging Western companies to stay and fix problems rather than leave, Disney said in its letter to licensees that it would pursue “a responsible transition that mitigates the impact to affected workers and business.” It set out a yearlong transitional period for its contractors to phase out production in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Belarus, Ecuador and Venezuela by March 31, 2014. [...]
A Disney official said production in Haiti and Cambodia would be allowed only in factories cooperating with the Better Work program, a partnership of the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation, that works with government officials, factory owners and labor groups to ensure safe and decent workplace conditions.
The Disney official said the company would consider permitting its licensees to again produce in Bangladesh and Pakistan if those countries get the Better Work program to help their factories.
Bangladesh would need to make significant changes to labor law before Better Work would consider involvement there, its director said. Meanwhile, the European Union is considering action to push the Bangladeshi garment industry toward better practices.
American and European retailers have exerted market pressure on the Bangladeshi garment industry to reject the added costs of things like fire escapes; it's past time to see the pressure going in the other direction, toward safety and decent labor standards. Matt Yglesias notwithstanding, there's a lot of evidence that Bangladeshi workers don't, in fact, think that the risk of death by fire or crushing is a fair trade for poverty wages. Their government and our corporations have been creating the conditions for that, and it's time for it to change.