Letter-writer’s logic was flawed on Bangladesh issue

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I am writing in response to Mark Nichols’ letter of May 11 concerning our national complicity in the deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, a factory in which employees manufactured clothes for Joe Fresh and other enterprises in Canada. Mr. Nichols seems to feel that our desire to pay less for such items contributed to the disaster. I object.

Let us imagine that Joe Fresh, indeed, decided to pay the workers in Bangladesh a decent, Canadian wage. As a consequence, Joe Fresh would have to raise the price of its clothing to compensate for the increased labour costs. Great, since Mr. Nichols maintains he is “quite willing to pay a significantly higher price for clothing so as not to exploit my fellow human being.”

Yet, he also realistically fears he “may be in the minority” and, if so, we can bet that a competitor would immediately pay slightly lower wages at another Bangladeshi factory (and since Bangladeshis are underemployed, it will find no shortage of cheap labour). The competitor lowers the price on

its clothing and attracts many of Joe Fresh’s customers. Joe Fresh goes out

of business and Mr. Nichols’ “fellow human beings” are making low

wages again, this time for the competitor.

What Joe Fresh had done instead is, along with several other companies, signed an agreement to significantly improve the buildings where their garments are made. This was the result of overwhelming public pressure, a lot of bad press, and (though we cynically think it is an endangered species in corporate culture) pure conscience.

The presence of global corporations in Bangladesh is good for that country, but we have to let the market decide the labour wages. No other arrangement is economically possible. And the alternative is continued poverty and misery for Bangladeshis. Rather, as it stands, Bangladeshis have the opportunity to organize, slowly increase their wages, demand better living and working conditions, and eventually build for themselves a functioning, self-sustaining economy with a thriving middle-class. Just like us.

Keith Hannaford

St. John’s

Geographic location: Bangladesh, Canada

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Recent comments

  • THIS is why they hate us
    June 27, 2013 - 10:12

    It is the height naivety to assume that with enough corporations exploiting their cheap labour, virtually non-existent labour, safety, and environmental laws, that the Bangladeshi people, and presumably people of all "developing nations" will one day rise to our level of consumption. Even if it were sustainable, it is even more naive to believe that these corporations, their governments, and our governments would allow the workers to build effective unions to challenge the powerful capitalist interests at home and abroad. Countries that do that get "visits" from Uncle Sam. These countries are useful to us only insofar that they provide virtual slave labour. But what is most appalling about your suggestion is the assumption that unfettered international capitalism will provide for all. Not even its most ardent supporters actually believe that. The same argument was used that by abolishing slavery, everyone would suffer as slavery did offer slaves food and shelter, not unlike the Bangladeshi workers. How would you feel, Keith, if your family had to struggle in filthy, dangerous working conditions for 12 hours a day for a few dollars a week to provide cheap clothing, or Disney figurines for children overseas whose bedroom alone is twice the size of your family's apartment? We are only where we are by luck of the draw. And we are the biggest leeches on the world. It's not something to celebrate.

    • Keith
      July 04, 2013 - 11:35

      I do not have to assume that unfettered international capitalism will provide for all. There is two hundred years of proof available in any decent history of global economics. And I reiterate, furthermore: there is no choice here. Economics is the determinant. All we have to do is decide whether to see it through or do nothing.