Global Policy Forum

The Price of a 'Fast' Life


Recent fires in Bangladesh factories once again raised concerns about workers’ rights and safety in the manufacturing industry. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter employing 3 million workers, mostly women who earn meager salaries of just $43 per month. Finance minister, Abdul Maal Abdul Muhit admits the overdependence of Bangladeshi economy on garment exports that comprise 80% of all exports. Part of the problem leading to exploitation, according to Judy Gearhard, International Labour Rights Forum Executive Director is poor government regulation of existing laws. Retailers and suppliers are driven by price and although code of conduct auditing is popular, it is a voluntary process used for PR or assessing risk and often does not ensure change in their operations. Finally, consumers also have a responsibility through their choices but must also advocate for better government procurement practices.

Al Jazeera
March 2, 2013

Who is feeding our insatiable desire for food, the latest fashion, and gadgets and do we care about the consequences?

Our programme this week starts with the way we consume the everyday stuff like food, apparel and increasingly, electronic gadgets. These are things which make our lives easier, more exciting. But when we dig a little deeper, we find them all to be tainted with some kind of scandal - the type that exploits people, usually in places where they can least afford it.

But it is something we often put to the back of our minds. When we pick up, say, our Apple iPhone - do we think about the conditions in the Foxconn factories in China where they are made?

Worse still, people die in fires in textile factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh - but does it stop us returning to the same clothes stores to buy more of those products?

Usually not until we start to consume something we had no intention of consuming and the recent horsemeat scandal across Europe has illustrated that quite starkly.

Bangladesh exports $24.3bn worth of clothing - almost 80 percent of all its exports. With around 5,000 garment factories employing more than three million workers - most of them women, the tiny nation is the world's second largest exporter of clothing after China.

Much of the clothing it produces goes to big international brands like H&M, Calvin Klein and Gap. But consider this:

Fires at clothing factories in Bangladesh have killed more than 700 people in the last seven years and the clothing industry has some of the worst paid workers in the world.

In this episode, Al Jazeera's Tarek Bazely caught up with Bangladesh's finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith to discuss if the country was too dependent on the textile industry.

We also speak to Judy Gearhart, the executive director at the International Labor Rights Forum, an organisation which takes an active role in trying to improve conditions in some of these factories.

To view the video, follow the link.


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