The recent factory collapse in Bangladesh in which over 1100 workers died makes this the second worst industrial accident in world history – after the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India.
For Sociology students studying Global Development this is a good example that seems to offer broad support for the continued relevance of dependency theory.
One article highlights the following factors which contributed to the 1000+ death toll –
- Bangladeshi factory workers cannot afford to not work when wages are only around the $50/ month mark. Behind this, of course, lies Western demand for cheap and fast fashion – We only get £2 because of those low wages…..
- The lack of long-term commitment to suppliers on the part of Corporate buyers – which means that it is economically irrational for many factory developers to invest in health and safety measures in their factories. As I see it behind this lack of commitment lies transnational firms’ desire to take advantage of the ‘race to the bottom’ – short contracts means the parent company can move out of Bangladesh at short notice to take advantage of cheaper labour elsewhere….
- International Corporations effectively wash their hands of responsibility for monitoring health and safety through outsourcing – As a result, many of our high street shops have scant representation themselves in Bangladesh, leaving monitoring of health and safety to the Bangladeshi authorities, which basically means effective monitoring doesn’t take place.
However, The Ethical Trading Initiative takes a different approach, preferring to put responsibility on the Bangladeshi authorities, pointing out that…
‘A common reaction in the UK media and from NGOs has been to focus anger on brands sourcing from Bangladesh. But the view in Dhaka is rather different. Newspapers here have concentrated almost exclusively on the failure by government agencies to implement the law on occupational safety and health (OSH) and the building code. This in turn is blamed on the nexus between garment factory owners and politicians – sometimes the same people.
According to the 2008 building law, any new structure, for any purpose, has to obtain an occupancy certificate from a government agency before it can be used; only six certificates have been issued since 2008, although it is estimated 4,000 – 5,000 new buildings come up every year.’
The ETI also aruges that the lack of unionisation of workers is an important contributory factor in these deaths – As the article above says, the workers could clearly see the cracks in the walls of the factory, but were forced to go in and work – Unionisation may have given them the sense of empowerment to stand up for their rights and stay alive.
Of course both of these perspectives – one blaming the TNCs, the other blaming the Bangladeshi elite – still offer broad support for the continued relevance of Marxist Theory – At the end of the day this is still a situation where the poor and powerless are dying so the powerful can maintain their profits.