Spare a moment to look at the label on the shirt you’re wearing or the tag on the pants you pulled on this morning.
Chances are, the clothes were made in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India or maybe Pakistan.
These are countries where labour is cheap, employment standards weak or perhaps virtually non-existent — factors that make products made in South Asia so attractive to North American retailing giants, which stock their shelves with clothing they are able to sell at discounted prices.
Of course, our ability to purchase shirts for a few dollars comes at a price, not the least of which is the near-extinction of the domestic garment industry. Most recently, that price was the lives of more than 100 workers who perished in a horrific fire at a factory in Bangladesh.
News reports in the wake of last weekend’s tragedy outlined a laundry list of problems, such as emergency exits blocked or locked and a lack of training in the use of fire extinguishers.
The garment industry in Bangladesh — second only to China in terms of exports — is relatively young. Since its humble beginnings in the late-1970s, the nation now boasts more than 4,000 garment factories and contributes more than $20 billion a year to the country’s gross domestic product.
It’s big business, big profits and big opportunities for thousands of poor souls who might not have a job otherwise.
And there’s the rub. As bad as life in a South Asian garment factory may be by our standards, the people forced to labour long hours under sometimes deplorable conditions for just a few dollars a month are still better off than they might be without any work at all.
The companies that operate the garment shops know that, as do the governments that too often look the other way when labour movements are crushed or health and safety rules are bent in
favour of employers.
North American consumers can do their part to help put an end to the abuse of workers who toil in substandard factories under unsafe conditions. By not purchasing goods made under such
deplorable conditions, consumers can make their voices heard.
But don’t get us wrong. The idea is not to put the companies out of business, which wouldn’t do exploited workers any good.
By being more selective with purchases, consumers can not only help make the overseas garment industry more accountable to their employees, they can put indirect pressure on governments that don’t appear to take calls for more equitable wages and safe working conditions very seriously.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.