Killing - Converging Narratives of Disaster at Rana Plaza: The Race to the Bottom in the Rag Trade and Corruption and Incompetence in Government.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Robert J.S. ROSS, Clark University, USA
At the second anniversary of the building collapse in which 1138 garment workers were killed on April 214 2013, a Bangladesh leader of a worker education NGO said: “This was not a tragedy, it was a killing.”

The day before the collapse, April 23, workers noticed cracks in the fatally flawed building. The building owner, later described as politically connected thug, assured the factory managers of the firms located in his building that all was well, as he got locally connected engineers to assert his will. The next morning the workers in the building, among the lowest paid in the global apparel industry, were forced back to work. At least 1138 died, another 2500 or so were painfully injured and ripples of poverty ran through the families of Savar workers.

This paper –using US Department of Commerce and WTO databases -- sketches the global race to the bottom that creates a cruel and apparently inevitable pressure on factory owners, brand sourcing agents and retail buyers to force laborers into poverty wages and dangerous work. But as they face these conditions these workers lack an otherwise indispensable ally: a government willing to defend their rights, enforce legal conditions and guarantee their safety.  Local and global forces create a matrix of corruption and lack of resource making government of little use and even an adversary.  The paper reports quantitatively and narratively a history of fires and collapses in Bangladesh that show the twin forces at work.

Among workers’ alternatives and those chosen by their allies is de facto privatization of standards and building code enforcement that can defend their lives. The paper concludes with a reflection on this particular solution.