• Bangladesh tragedy exposes need for responsible globalization | Ajay Chhibber

    28 May 2013

     woman weaves at loom
    In Bangladesh, UNDP-supported local Community Development Committees help people establish small businesses such as weaving on a traditional hand loom. (Photo: UNDP Bangladesh)

    As capital moves to find the cheapest locations for production in a race to the bottom, the ugly side of globalization is brought home to the world through horrific pictures of the tragic collapse of the Bangladesh textile factory.

    Poor regulations and standards are widespread in sweat shops across the developing world. Brand name buyers hide behind the fact they are unaware of the working conditions under which their cheaply sourced products are being produced.

    The Bangladesh tragedy shows how costly it is to ignore safety and working condition standards, when thousands are packed into unsafe buildings in order to reduce costs and increase profits. The government is now considering allowing unionisation and raising the minimum wage.

    Working in a textile sweat shop was a way out of rural poverty for thousands of Bangladeshi women, as is the case in many other parts of the developing world. But can we not do better by ensuring a minimum safety and decent working conditions for such workers? A few cents extra for the clothes we buy in fancy department stores is a price worth paying for those who died in Bangladesh and for the millions who toil under very harsh conditions in similar factories around the world.

    Dumping of chemical pollutants and unsafe and unprotected working conditions are a common problem, and display a complete disregard for the health of workers and people living in neighbourhood communities. Most major river systems in the developing world are so badly polluted that their water is unusable. The chances of factory owners getting caught for flouting environmental regulations are low and even if charged they can often get away with a small fine or a bribe.

    Globalization is not just a matter of finding the cheapest, least regulated part of the world to source products, and claim that jobs are being created. The deaths of the Bangladeshi workers should wake us up to the urgent need for more responsible globalization; the need for a model of capitalism that is not just about less regulation but also the necessary amount of adequate regulation – whether it be financial, labour, safety or environmental.

    Talk to us: How can we work together to ensure safety and decent working conditions for workers in developing countries?