Friday, April 26, 2013

How much did that cheap garment you are wearing cost in terms of human life?

We all love to buy cheap clothing and for the most part the clothing comes from China. Labour rates have been very cheap there and workers live and work under a low wage regime and the conditions they work under would at best be described as 'undesirable.' However, these workers would be seen as 'lucky' by those in 'third world' economies, particularly in Bangladesh. It seems that as wages and conditions slowly improve in China the West is looking to import clothing from Bangladesh, where workers put their lives at risk, by working in terrible conditions, often locked in multi-story buildings where accidents occur and people die because they cannot escape. There have been many disasters and in the latest where hundreds died must serve as a warning to those of us who delight in purchasing a bargain. The fact is that our bargains are gained at the expense of these  lowly paid workers. There are reports that many are working for as little as $US16 cents an hour. Of course the Bangladesh authorities face a dilemma; workers need to work and any job is better than none. There is no welfare support in these countries. It is a matter of 'work of you don't eat.'
There is a responsibility on the West where we need to pay more for our clothing and other products and the companies who import the cheap products also come into the picture. They make huge profits and until they take a more moral view and the bargain loving public see the wider picture, then what we have witnessed in Bangladesh will be replicated in many other poorer nations. We cannot ignore the plight of our fellow human beings. If it means that we wear something a little longer, then so be it. I know---tell that to a struggling family in NZ and it may fall on deaf ears. That issue needs to be faced within NZ, but not at the expense of the citizens of Bangladesh. Their Government needs to take a stand and force better conditions in these factories that are no more than 21st century 'work houses.' It seems that Dickens wrote in a manner that reflects an age old issue--the plight of the poor in all nations, but so much worse in others. Get a grip NZ and perhaps extend the Fair Trade concept to the clothing we wear and at the same time address poverty in NZ.