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Rescue workers look for trapped garment workers in the Rana Plaza building which collapsed, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 24, 2013. A block housing garment factories and shops collapsed in Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 peopl
Many major American and European retailers have been refusing to sign onto safety improvements in the garment industry in Bangladesh, despite a factory fire that killed more than 100 in November and a recent building collapse with a death toll that has now passed 700. It would cost too much and be too difficult, they say. So how much is too much for the lives of hundreds of Bangladeshi workers? The numbers sound big—$600 million a year for five years to renovate factory buildings and install adequate safety equipment. But if you break it down by the vast number of garments made in Bangladesh each year, that's just an estimated 10 cents each.

The problems that need fixing range from repairing structural damage or unsafe construction in buildings to simple things like adding fire extinguishers. For all of them, enforcement is a major concern. The laws Bangladesh has on the books now should have prevented the Rana Plaza collapse, or at least have emptied the building before it collapsed. Without adequate inspectors and enforcement, though, laws get broken. And as Kimberly Ann Elliott of the Center for Global Development pointed out to Dylan Byers, the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas shows that these are issues even in the United States. In Bangladesh:

It’s a combination of capacity, which is very low in a country like Bangladesh, and incentives to not inspect. A lot of things do slide through due to a lack of will because Bangladesh has its whole export economy riding on apparel, and it’s clearly a strategy of the Bangladeshi government to succeed on low wage exports.
That's why there has to be outside pressure throughout the consumption chain. The countries to which Bangladesh is exporting clothes need to say that unless Bangladesh both passes and enforces adequate safety laws, there will be trade penalties. The retailers that will ultimately sell the clothes need to pay their contractors enough to create and maintain adequate safety, and they need to make clear that safety investments are part of the deal. Customers need to tell those retailers that 10 cents per garment is not too much to pay for human lives. We should think instead that human lives are too much to pay for a pair of pants or a jacket.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue May 07, 2013 at 11:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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