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Time to talk about Bangladesh


an modh coinniolach

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We have in the news today another terrible workplace accident occurring in a garment factory in Bangladesh. Eight dead in a fire in a sweater factory, to go with the 900-950 who died two weeks ago. That on top of last year’s tragedy.

Industrial tragedies in a far-off country and in a sector in which we no longer look to compete might seem like an irrelevance to us but, in my opinion these are the most pertinent news and political stories of the last two weeks.

The reason for my claim is that these tragedies point to a fundamental tension at the core of our globalised world economy. On the one hand developing countries, and workers in developing countries are prepared to take employment with appalling pay and conditions because it will potentially improve their material conditions. On the other, in a globalised economy there are always populations which can be exploited to the extent that any basics tenets of decency in the workplace are dispensed with. Thus our global system has the potential both to allow individuals and populations to progress materially and, at the same time, to cause dramatic declines in the pay and conditions. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that this trend is, or at least always will be, limited to clothing manufacture.

I readily admit that I don’t know how this can be addressed. Those of a particularly ruthless form of economic thinking will doubtless say that this is the way that economies work and there is nothing to be done. My problem with that approach is twofold: firstly, I find it difficult to accept from a human or moral standpoint that we cannot devise a situation where people can expect that at the end of a day’s work they might get a living wage and have a fair chance of making it home alive; secondly, I disagree that the trajectory is necessarily positive. Our more ardent free-marketers would have us believe that once their preferred system of global trade reaches perfection the laws of comparative advantage will mean that everyone will be better off. History however shows us that the advantages secured by globalisation, particularly in manufacturing, are those of depressed wages and working conditions garnered through the fundamentally predatory nature of capitalism.

My point in a nutshell is this: what happens in terms of wages and conditions for textile workers now is a foretaste of what people in other industries can expect in the future, unless you’re a protected professional, politician or civil servant.

My question therefore is how should people, in this case, in Ireland respond to these tragedies? I’m asking because I genuinely don’t even know my own mind on this. It seems to me that neither free-trade nor tariffs provide the answer that their supporters would suggest, but it’s not clear what else does.

For what it’s worth I also think that, for both right and left, there are core ideological positions which prevent possible practical approaches to dealing with this issue. The left, particularly the trade union movement should be taking leadership on this, but they are more concerned with local conditions and haven’t managed to make a fundamental leap in understanding that not all employers are the same: there are some whose practices are good and worth supporting and there are others whose are poor and worth vilifying. Those on the right also need to distinguish between sorts of rights and workers organising that may be problematic in an Irish or western environment (e.g. getting a half-hour off to cash your cheque) and those needed in the developing world (e.g. having some basic health and safety standards).

In any case, I welcome your opinions.
 

an modh coinniolach

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Examples?
The obvious one is in the thread title. The monthly wage for a garment manufacturing employee in Bangladesh would be 50 euro a month. Doesn't augur well for similar employees elsewhere or are garments manufactured there because of an unusual prediposition the people of Bangladesh have to clothing manufacture?
 

Trampas

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Yep. It's all our fault. Cue: yet another round of national self-flagellation.
 
R

Ramps

The obvious one is in the thread title. The monthly wage for a garment manufacturing employee in Bangladesh would be 50 euro a month.
But what was the wage, say, 5, 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

You said that globalisation leads to depressed wages and poorer conditions....
 

stopdoingstuff

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More importantly, if they were all on a grand a month, would they have jobs? The issue in Bangladesh is poor local enforcement of local regulations on locally owned businesses, so the proximate cause of the building's collapse is a Bangladeshi issue.
 

The Herren

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Yep. It's all our fault. Cue: yet another round of national self-flagellation.
Which Irish Minister is going to run with this and apologise on behalf of the State? I think there should be a National Apology Day so that apologies could be proclaimed in bulk to save money and time and crocodile tears. I suppose a corrosponding National Compensation Day would be unrealistic!!
 

an modh coinniolach

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But what was the wage, say, 5, 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

You said that globalisation leads to depressed wages and poorer conditions....
Depends what perspective you look at it from. An Irish person in an exporr oriented, efficient clothing factory wth safety standards in the early 1980s might have made 7-9k punts per year. And that's my point- it may mark an a improvement for Bangladeshi workers (provided that they're not killed in the process) who at that time were not textile workers but for the other textile workers it is a depression of their wages and conditions, and as it's a global economy I get to count them too.
 

Trampas

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Which Irish Minister is going to run with this and apologise on behalf of the State? I think there should be a National Apology Day so that apologies could be proclaimed in bulk to save money and time and crocodile tears. I suppose a corrosponding National Compensation Day would be unrealistic!!

Gee I dunno. Every calamity in every islamic hell-hole is surely the fault of some western state or polity.
 

an modh coinniolach

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An undertaking not to source goods from sweat shops would be fine. Nothing more necessary.
Which Irish Minister is going to run with this and apologise on behalf of the State? I think there should be a National Apology Day so that apologies could be proclaimed in bulk to save money and time and crocodile tears. I suppose a corrosponding National Compensation Day would be unrealistic!!
 
R

Ramps

Depends what perspective you look at it from. An Irish person in an exporr oriented, efficient clothing factory wth safety standards in the early 1980s might have made 7-9k punts per year. And that's my point- it may mark an a improvement for Bangladeshi workers (provided that they're not killed in the process) who at that time were not textile workers but for the other textile workers it is a depression of their wages and conditions, and as it's a global economy I get to count them too.
I'm not 100% sure I get your point, so apologies if my comment doesn't deal with the point you make.

Are you talking about the Irish textile workers who "lost out" to cheaper foreign labour? If so, you must ask why didn't the wage demands of Irish textile workers become less in order to compete.
 

tipp revolution

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The obvious one is in the thread title. The monthly wage for a garment manufacturing employee in Bangladesh would be 50 euro a month. Doesn't augur well for similar employees elsewhere or are garments manufactured there because of an unusual prediposition the people of Bangladesh have to clothing manufacture?
simon reeve bbc travelled around indian ocean through bangladesh - it was an eyeopener. delta farmers pressured to flood land with sea water ti grow shrimps rendering the land useless for recultivation was the thing that stuck in my mind
 
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The Sentinel

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An undertaking not to source goods from sweat shops would be fine. Nothing more necessary.
But then how could this State defend its policy of " race to the bottom" which our own workers are facing. This "competitive" policy is being trumpeted by the EU and delightedly supported by our facist government and employer bodies as the only way to go. Far from trying to bring up the standards of the Banglas and others the trend is to reduce our standards to even lower levels so that we can "compete". This is not about people it is about greed and profit.
 

The Herren

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An undertaking not to source goods from sweat shops would be fine. Nothing more necessary.

If you expect any such action from this "failed entity" of a State then I think you will have a long wait. No doubt our fool of an excuse for a foreign minister, Gimmemore,will make hollow meaningless statesmanlike presidential platitudes and that will be the end of it. Although our Lepping Leprechaun President might come on board and recite a poem about the tragedy of it all, don't ye know.
 

GrimReefer

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Globalisation and the rise in consumption has also led to the enrichment of, for example, the Germans through their auto and engineering industries. Yet they are not working in unsafe buildings.

It is a developing nation problem, they have to demand and provide good governance.
The garment factory fire in Manhattan in the 19th century that effectively ended sweatshops and started regulation leading to fire escapes shows that responsible governance in democratic society can manage such a crisis. The terrible conditions in English factories in the industrial revolution were eventually ameliorated and trades unions grew to the extent that a Thatcher was required to finally break their power.

Globalisation spurred economic growth, activism and governance internally in those countries solved the domestic issues.

The fault, dear OP, lies not in our markets, but in ourselves. That we are underlings.

Bangladeshis have to ask for better.

On a separate note, I would like to thank Swype beta for having correctly capitalised Thatcher and having the word underlings in my dictionary. I'm also sure there is no connection between those words being in there.
 

Kevin Parlon

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An undertaking not to source goods from sweat shops would be fine. Nothing more necessary.
The problem, IMO is that the Bangladeshis are unwilling, or unable to apply the rule of law. I have been to Bangladesh twice and I have two Bangladeshi employees (one a Phd and the other with a Masters in Computer Science). I've had this conversation with them many times. Why do you stand for it? Why doesn't some national unifying figure emerge to fix the problems which are so obvious? This gets smiles and sanguine resignation. "That's the way it is" and "When x gets in, they just set about lining the pockets of their extended families, they get thrown out and the other side gets in and around around it goes". Corruption is eating half the world alive. It manifests itself in the extra few rupees you have to slip the post office guy to process your mail and it goes all the way up to the theft of billions from the state. I would love to read about political science approach to fix this problem, but I've never come across one.

The worst thing we can do IMO, is to blame consumers. It isn't their fault. And it isn't the fault of Marks and Spencers or whomever. Goign that route simply absolves the local government of responsibility. It's 'soft bigotry' of the kind I constantly hear from the left. There's an unspoken 'Well! we can hardly expect the brown people to apply regulations properly! We must do it for them!' No, no and again no.
 

GrimReefer

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The problem, IMO is that the Bangladeshis are unwilling, or unable to apply the rule of law. I have been to Bangladesh twice and I have two Bangladeshi employees (one a Phd and the other with a Masters in Computer Science). I've had this conversation with them many times. Why do you stand for it? Why doesn't some national unifying figure emerge to fix the problems which are so obvious? This gets smiles and sanguine resignation. "That's the way it is" and "When x gets in, they just set about lining the pockets of their extended families, they get thrown out and the other side gets in and around around it goes". Corruption is eating half the world alive. It manifests itself in the extra few rupees you have to slip the post office guy to process your mail and it goes all the way up to the theft of billions from the state. I would love to read about political science approach to fix this problem, but I've never come across one.

The worst thing we can do IMO, is to blame consumers. It isn't their fault. And it isn't the fault of Marks and Spencers or whomever. Goign that route simply absolves the local government of responsibility. It's 'soft bigotry' of the kind I constantly hear from the left. There's an unspoken 'Well! we can hardly expect the brown people to apply regulations properly! We must do it for them!' No, no and again no.
Well said

P.S. I'll go slightly further. South Asian countries have home grown class hierarchies that reinforce inequity, that everyone accepts the way they do religion.

Everyone accepts and then plays the game. Everyone is up for corruption as they reckon that is the way. As much as they grumble about the few "lining their pockets" the grumbling is as much jealousy and anxiety about when they get to be one of them.

You will probably never get a rational view from a south Asian in this respect. I am extending this to all the countries in the former British India and Sri Lanka.
 
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bonkers

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I'm not 100% sure I get your point, so apologies if my comment doesn't deal with the point you make.

Are you talking about the Irish textile workers who "lost out" to cheaper foreign labour? If so, you must ask why didn't the wage demands of Irish textile workers become less in order to compete.
Are you drunk?
 
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