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Is It Really A Bargain?

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/28876688@N03/2697297072">Sweatshop project</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Sweatshop project – MarissaOrton via flickrCC

When an 8 story building collapsed killing 1,129 people and injuring approximately 2,515 more, the world finally turned its attention to the garment industry´s multi-billion business. The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history. Although on April 23 2013 -a day before the incident- cracks in the building had forced business owners and local authorities to evacuate the building premises, the following day despite safety warnings, the garment factory workers at Rana Plaza were forced to return to work under the threat that they would be fired or their wages would be taken from them. On April 24, 2013 at 8:57 am, the building had collapsed trapping an estimated 3,122 workers inside.

Beyond a mere act of negligence, the Rana Plaza tragedy could be traced back to the lack of regulation on the part of national governments and the corporate sector, as well as to an institutionalized tolerance towards exploitative business practices that remain unchanged mainly due to economic interests.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse, it was discussed how garment factory laborers have to work under appalling conditions as they have no social benefits, work as long as 15-hour shifts a day, have no safety equipment whenever handling toxic materials, and are paid as little as $37 a month (or $0.24 an hour) -as in the case of Bangladesh-, which is considered to be a country with one of the “most competitive” labor wages in the world.

Moreover, while it is true that the garment industry represents a huge share of national exports for countries like Bangladesh (85.9%), India (87%), Macau (84.4%), Cambodia (72.5%), Pakistan (72.1%), or El Salvador (60.2%); it is important to note that the garment industry has also gone unregulated for far too long. Although it is important to maintain competitive prices and to continue to increase the economic dynamism of an industry that accounts for 6% of world trade and around $400 billion of global exports; it is simply wrong to deny millions of laborers all over the world of their basic worker and human rights.

All around the world, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements that showcase deals, special offers and discounts. From well-known brands like Nike or Benetton to major retail stores such as Primark, H&M, Forever21, Zara or Walmart; it is no secret that the best way to attract customers is by offering fashionable, decent quality, and most importantly cheap products. This in turn has led to an insatiable demand that is fueling the fast fashion industry, and with it a cycle of exploitation and inequality.

Unfortunately, this massive demand for cheap products and the unregulated cheap labor of countries like Bangladesh continues to increase the profits of an extremely successful industry. However, in the meantime –and despite tragic events like those occurred in Rana Plaza in 2013-, as major companies in the garment industry continue to outsource their production, these companies are also outsourcing their legal, moral and corporate responsibilities abroad making it harder for governments to prosecute those who break the law, as well as for workers to demand their rights.

As the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy approaches, it is worth remembering that just like governments and corporations, customers also have a responsibility in this matter. The harsh and often inhumane conditions faced by the garment industry workers should not remained shadowed. Unless customers, governments, and those working for this industry demand transparency and fair working conditions, tragedies like this are likely to occur again.

Let there be no doubt that the glamour and joy portrayed in the media does not reach the workers of this industry. Quite simply put, our bargains are many times equivalent to the garment factory workers suffering. So, let us reflect and ask ourselves, how low can prices go before human dignity is lost completely in a piece of clothing? Just how far are we willing to go for a ¨bargain¨?


¿Es realmente una ganga?

Cuando un edificio de 8 pisos se derrumbó matando a 1.129 personas e hiriendo a aproximadamente 2.515 más, el mundo finalmente prestó atención al multi-millonario negocio de la industria textil. El colapso en 2013 del edificio de Rana Plaza en Dhaka, Bangladesh, es considerado como el accidente más mortífero en la historia de la industria textil. Aunque el 23 de abril del 2013 (un día antes de la tragedia) una serie de grietas en el edificio había obligado a dueños de locales comerciales y a las autoridades locales a evacuar las instalaciones del edificio, el día siguiente -a pesar de las advertencias de seguridad-, los trabajadores de la fábrica textil en Rana Plaza se vieron obligados a regresar a trabajar bajo la amenaza de que serían despedidos o su salario no les sería entregado. El 24 de abril del 2013, alrededor de las 8:57 am, el edificio se había derrumbado atrapando a un estimado de 3.122 trabajadores en su interior.

Más allá de ser un simple acto de negligencia, la tragedia de Rana Plaza podría trazarse a la falta de regulación por parte de los gobiernos nacionales y el sector empresarial, así como a una cultura de tolerancia institucionalizada hacia prácticas comerciales abusivas que responden principalmente a intereses económicos .

A raíz del colapso del edificio de Rana Plaza, se inició una discusión sobre como los obreros de las fábricas de ropa tienen que trabajar en condiciones deplorables ya que no tienen prestaciones sociales, laboran hasta 15 horas al día, no tienen equipo de seguridad al manipular materiales tóxicos y se les paga salarios tan bajos que llegan a los $ 37 al mes (o $ 0,24 por hora) -como en el caso de Bangladesh-, que es considerado como un país con uno de los salarios laborales “más competitivos” en el mundo.

Por otra parte, si bien es cierto que la industria de la confección representa una gran parte de las exportaciones nacionales de países como Bangladesh (85,9%), India (87%), Macao (84,4%), Camboya (72,5%), Pakistán (72,1%) o El Salvador (60,2%) ; es importante señalar que la industria textil también ha permanecido sin regulación durante demasiado tiempo. Aunque es importante mantener precios competitivos y seguir aumentando el dinamismo económico de una industria que representa el 6% del comercio mundial y significa $400 mil millones de dólares en concepto de exportaciones mundiales; es simplemente erróneo negar a millones de personas en todo el mundo de sus derechos como trabajadores y como seres humanos.

En todo el mundo, estamos siendo constantemente bombardeados con anuncios que muestran ofertas, descuentos especiales, gangas, etc. Desde marcas conocidas como Nike o Benetton a grandes cadenas de tiendas como Primark, H & M, Forever21, Zara o Walmart; no es ningún secreto que la mejor forma de atraer clientes es ofreciendo productos a la moda, de calidad decente y aún más importante, productos baratos. Esto ha dado lugar a una demanda insaciable de ropa barata que está impulsando la industria de la moda rápida y con ella un ciclo de explotación y desigualdad.

Por desgracia, esta demanda masiva de productos y el acceso a la mano de obra barata no regulada de países como Bangladesh, sigue aumentando las ganancias de esta industria de gran éxito. Sin embargo, mientras tanto -y a pesar eventos trágicos como los ocurridos en Rana Plaza en 2013-, las principales empresas de la industria textil y de la moda siguen utilizando la tercerización de su producción, como una manera viable para evadir sus responsabilidades legales, morales y corporativas en el extranjero lo que hace a su vez más difícil que los gobiernos procesen a aquellos que infringen la ley, así como para que los trabajadores puedan exigir sus derechos.

En vísperas del segundo aniversario de la tragedia de Rana Plaza, vale la pena recordar que al igual que los gobiernos y las empresas, los clientes también tienen una responsabilidad en este asunto. Las duras condiciones que enfrentan los trabajadores de la industria textil  no deben permanecer ocultas. A menos que los clientes, los gobiernos, y los que trabajan para este sector demanden transparencia y condiciones de trabajo justas, es muy probable que tragedias como ésta continúen ocurriendo.

Que no quepa duda de que el glamour y la alegría retratada en las campañas mediáticas del mundo de la moda no llegan a los trabajadores de esta industria. Simplemente, nuestras gangas son muchas veces equivalentes al  sufrimiento de muchos trabajadores. De modo que es tiempo oportuno para que reflexionemos y nos preguntemos, ¿qué tan bajo pueden llegar a ser los precios antes de que la dignidad humana se pierda por completo en una pieza de ropa? ¿Hasta dónde estamos dispuestos a llegar por una ¨ganga¨?

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9 thoughts on “Is It Really A Bargain?

  1. No it’s not a bargain. I used to be a star shopper. I “supported” the economy by buying things, I miserably tried to cure my depression with “retail therapy”. None of it worked. I was the problem now I try to be the solution. Shopping is something I do mindfully and as rarely as possible. I don’t want to be part of the reason another 1,000 people die in the name of mass production and greed.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Very good post. It is unfortunate that conservatives here in the U.S. are hell-bent on deregulating industry and breaking up labor unions. Cheap labor and high profit is their goal and they’ve shown little to no interest in foreign or domestic wage parity. Such an interest would require empathy, and sadly, there is little to none to be had.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Extrem Metal band Napalm Death relates to this tragedy and workers exploitation on their new album Apex Predator – Easy Meat. This is what their singer had to say:

    “I see the world as a see-saw,” he explains. “There are countries in the world that relentlessly consume and then there are other countries that are the fucking dumping ground, and the common perception is that they have less value. I don’t think that way but it’s just a natural way to think for a lot of people. The event that sparked it, and even this passed a lot of people by, was the building that collapsed in Bangladesh last year, at a textile manufacturers. It was the dodgiest situation ever. The building was already unsafe, there were huge cracks in the wall and they’d built extra storage on top, extra workshops, because the greedy bosses wanted to increase their output, and then the whole building collapses. These clothing companies, in the main, it was crocodile tears and nothing’s happened and to me that’s fucking shameful. People think that slavery is a thing of the past, but there are slave conditions all over the world, where people are working under threat of death. Slavery is far from gone. I know that it’s something I can’t change on my own, although I try to make the correct choices in my life, but I felt I wanted to raise the point a little bit and hopefully open people’s eyes.”

    Be warned this is really extreme. But no more extreme than the textile industry.

    Like

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