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Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization Essay


Introduction

All employees, inconsiderate of their nature of work and employment, are entitled to proper working conditions as well as remuneration equivalent to the work done. This is enshrined in the labor laws. It is important therefore that all companies and industries that provide employment opportunities put in place measures and policies that will uphold this statement.

In the Bangladeshi garment industry however, the rampant cases of employee dissatisfaction makes one wonder whether the government cares to get to the root of it all (Knutsen, 13). The phenomenal growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh has been well documented over the last three decades, with experts and analysts saying that the industry now ranks amongst the largest garment exporters in the world.

It also accounts for 75 percent of the country’s export earnings, and provides abundant job opportunities for females (Mottaleb and Sonobe, 67). Yet, in the past few years, the industry has dominated headline news around the world for all the wrong reasons. This industry has frequently experienced fatal disasters that have claimed the lives of thousands of predominantly female workers (Brown, 20).

The industry is dominated by female workers due to their vulnerability to low paying jobs and perhaps education levels as displayed in the country’s demographics. This paper illuminates the factory fire in Bangladesh in November 2012 and the collapse of a garment-making factory in April 2013. Additionally, the paper discusses the role of globalization in these disasters and the measures taken by retailers in this industry to curb the reoccurrence of such disasters in the future.

Discussion

Although many disasters that have occurred in the Bangladesh fashion industry are blamed on acts of negligence by management of concerned firms, a government inquiry into the factors that led to the 2012 Dhaka fire in the Tazreen Fashion factory could not rule out “an act of sabotage” by competitors.

However, no conclusive forensic evidence was provided to back this claim (Manik and Yardley, 6). Owing to unsafe and crowded working conditions, as well as the actions taken by management once the fire started (e.g., mid-level managers prevented employees from leaving the burning factory), at least 110 people, mostly female employees, lost their lives and over 200 were injured (“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 4). This was atrocious considering the widespread negative image on the industry.

Barely six months later, on 24 April 2013, another eight-storey garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, collapsed and killed more than 1,000 workers in what government agencies and mainstream commentators termed as the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history (Alam, 38).

Again, negligence, poor structural facilities and deadly working conditions were the main culprits in an industry worth over $20 billion and which supplies clothing to reputable retailers around the world (Alam, 40; Brown, 20). As alarming as it may sound, there were no measures put in place to prevent such an occurrence despite the high number of casualties in the previous disaster.

The role of globalization in nurturing and fueling the garment industry disasters in Bangladesh cannot be ignored. It is conceivable that globalization has fuelled the rapid growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh and other Asian countries due to the ready market available for the finished products in the United States (US) and Europe (Knutsen 225).

As a result of the fast upgrading of the industry from export-related production of cheap simple clothes to exports of well-known garments for the middle- and high-end markets of US and Europe, Bangladeshi factory owners have taken advantage of the susceptible female inhabitants in the region. They have done this by providing them with unsafe working conditions and low wages to feed the insatiable appetite of these markets.

It is unfortunate that this scum is led by reputable global retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears, C&A, and the Edinburg Woolen Mill (Ahmed 41-42; “Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 14; Manik and Yardley, 3) which should, in fact, be the front-liners in condemning such exploitation. However, the Bangladeshi community has a more or less negative perception towards the industry at the moment but still passionately embraces its employment due to the urge to quench its economic thirst.

It is important to note that workers in the garment industry in this country earn extremely low wages of $37 per month and most garment firms do not allow employees to join trade unions thereby leading to poor working conditions (Manik and Yardley, 10). The fact that companies in this industry do not allow their employees to join trade unions alone gives an overwhelmingly sad picture of the working conditions therein. These factors explain why so many workers lost their lives in the two disasters (Alam, 14).

Acts of sabotage and arson can only be perpetuated by local competitors desiring to access the lucrative market for finished products in the US and Europe, hence pointing to the role of globalization in these disasters.

Available statistics show that (1) Bangladesh has more than 4,500 garment factories employing more than four million workers, (2) the garment industry is critical to Bangladesh’s economy as a source of employment and foreign currency (Manik and Yardley, 3), and (3) the country is the world’s second largest exporter of ready-made clothes, next only to China (“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 15).

It is conceivable that competitors who would want to access this huge global market may attempt to put other firms out of business and start exporting their own clothes to Western destinations (Ahmed, 12). Despite the fact that this is a healthy business competition, the mode trough which this is achieved is unforgivably sad. This assertion is predicated upon the fact that many Western retailers appear to be confused about their supply chain networks (Manik and Yardley, 3).

Good news, however, other overseas retailers in this industry are taking certain strategic measures to try and improve the working conditions and wages of Bangladeshi locals working in the garment industries (Brown, 5). They do this by insisting that they source their fashions from Bangladeshi factories which comply with health and safety standards despite the persistent disasters (“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 15).

The two disasters ignited widespread condemnation and street riots not only in Bangladesh but also globally as people came to terms with the perceived negligence of global brands in ensuring the health and safety of Bangladeshi workers in the garment industry (Manik and Yardley, 7). Demonstrators also condemned the government for failing to implement regulations that could provide better protection to workers from such disasters (“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 17).

To conclude, it is unacceptable that many of the global retailers seemed unaware of the fact that some of the clothes they sell came from the Tazreen Fashion factory. This reflects a serious lack of commitment on the part of retailers to monitor their upstream and downstream supply chain activities (Manik and Yardley, 3).

Others seemed unaware of the poor wages and work conditions that Bangladeshi workers were exposed to in the garment factories (“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire” 15); ostensibly to keep export prices down and hence attract more business opportunities and profits.

This capitalistic approach firmly entrenched in globalization should not be allowed to continue. Overall, global retailers sourcing clothing products from Bangladesh garment industry should initiate steps aimed at monitoring their supply chain partners for such malpractices, and should be held accountable when such disasters occur (Mottaleb, Khondoker and Tetsushi, 21).

Works Cited

Ahmed, Fauzia Eefan. “The rise of the Bangladesh garment industry: Globalization, women workers, and voice.” NWSA Journal. 16.2 (2004): 34-45. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Alam, Julhas. “Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Death Toll climbs Past 1,000.” Huffington Post 13 May 2013. Web.

“Bangladesh Tazreen Factory Fire was Sabotage – Inquiry.” BBC 17 Dec. 2013. Web.

Brown, Christopher. “Fatal fashion: Analysis of garment industry fires are a call to action.” Professional Safety. 58.5 (2013): 20-20. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Knutsen, Hege M. “Globalization and the garment industry in Sri Lanka. Journal of Contemporary Asia. 33.2 (2003): 225-250. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Manik, Julfikar Ali and Jim Yardley. “Bangladesh finds Gross Negligence in Factory Fire.” New York Times 17 Dec. 2012. Web.

Mottaleb, Khondoker Abdul and Tetsushi Sonobe. “An inquiry into the rapid growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh.” Economic Development & Cultural Change. 60.1 (2011): 67-89. Academic Search Premier. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2019, January 28). Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/disasters-in-the-bangladesh-garment-industry-and-the-role-of-globalization/

Work Cited

"Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization." IvyPanda, 28 Jan. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/disasters-in-the-bangladesh-garment-industry-and-the-role-of-globalization/.

1. IvyPanda. "Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization." January 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/disasters-in-the-bangladesh-garment-industry-and-the-role-of-globalization/.


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IvyPanda. "Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization." January 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/disasters-in-the-bangladesh-garment-industry-and-the-role-of-globalization/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization." January 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/disasters-in-the-bangladesh-garment-industry-and-the-role-of-globalization/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'Disasters in the Bangladesh Garment Industry and the Role of Globalization'. 28 January.

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