From Texas to Dhaka, economic exploitation continues to spill blood | Deborah Orr | Comment is free | The Guardian
"...An individual carrying out a mass shooting or planting a bomb – that's news, that's blameworthy, that's deserving of justice for the victims. But when business is the culprit, fingerpointing is deemed less important. Which is odd, in a way. Humanity may never quite be fully able to say which disturbed and angry people are truly dangerous. .."
But good management of industrial risk is eminently achievable. An explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas earlier this month killed 14 people and injured many others. Just a terrible accident that could not have been foreseen? Perhaps. But the factory had been fined by US regulators last year for its sloppy safety arrangements, eventually coughing up just $5,250 (£3,400).
In 2006, the factory was investigated
after an "odour complaint". It was found to have been using controlled materials without authorisation. The filing of an application to use the dangerous substances legally instead of illegally resolved the issue. In retrospect, these interventions by regulators seem pretty paltry, although the reasons for the accident have not yet been ascertained.
Nevertheless, the factory's parent company, Adair Grain Inc, has been sued
by insurance companies on behalf of a number of individuals, in a lawsuit that claims the company "was negligent in the operation of its facility, creating an unreasonably dangerous condition, which led to the fire and explosion".
The collapse of an eight-storey clothing factory in Dhaka this week is a much greater disaster. On Friday, as many as 2,000 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, nearly 300 of them dead. Estimates suggest that there may have been as many as 5,000 workers in the building. Witnesses say they had been told to return to work after reporting that a crack had appeared in one of the walls. One can't help wondering whether the building had simply never been built to withstand the weight of 5,000 people and their machinery.
Clearly, no heed had been paid by management to the deaths of 112 workers in a garment factory fire
in a nearby suburb, Ashulia, last November. A day of mourning for the dead was declared in Dhaka, but a few months on, a bigger disaster with greater casualties has occurred. This time, a day of mourning was declared for the entire country.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out what's going on in Bangladesh. It's the second-largest exporter of clothing in the world after China. The secret of success in both countries is that cheap, skilled labour turns out clothes that are of excellent quality, yet retail at sums that are peanuts in the west. Monthly pay in the Bangladesh garment industry can be as little as £25 a month, while £25 can buy two or three nice outfits on the high street in Britain. Primark
has confirmed that one of its suppliers worked from the building, while Matalan says it had used companies in the building in the recent past. Again, no surprise. Pressure groups have been trying to name and shame western suppliers into driving up health and safety standards among workers in the developing world for decades now, with some success, but not as much as they'd like to see.