May 19, 2013

Stinking morality, for dirt cheap goods

Is it our fault?  This refusal of major companies to acknowledge that it's time to stop exploiting and killing the poor - in second and third world countries - in fulfillment of first world demand for cheaper and cheaper goods?  

It's not entirely true, of course, since consumers in Australia (unlike those who get to buy all of their worldy possessions at a Wal-Mart) pay a premium for cheap goods, huge profit margins that don't trickle within coo-eee of poor factory works.  Although Kmart has, going by their advertising campaigns, gone down the path of being a local version of cheap-as-chips disposable everything, which is why I don't shop there - someone, somewhere, was paid a subsistence income and worked inhumanly long hours so that you and I  can buy pretty much anything for a few dollars.  

There are thousands and thousands of factories across the world, churning out crap for thoughtless first world consumers.

The non-response from our local companies is morally indefensible, as it the Wal-mart holier than thou tactic for avoiding accountability.  Of course, this is Wal-mart in standard modus operandi, nothing new to see.
Saying it was unwilling to sign on to the broad safety plan embraced by more than a dozen European companies this week, Wal-Mart said its factory monitors would “conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100 percent” of the 279 factories it uses in Bangladesh and publicize the results on its Web site. 

Wal-Mart promised to stop production immediately at factories if urgent safety problems were uncovered and to notify factory owners and government authorities of improvements. But the company, the world’s largest retailer, stopped short of committing to help underwrite the improvements — one of the crucial aspects of the Bangladesh safety agreement adopted by European companies.

By far, Gap has been the most vocal company opposed to the plan, expressing concerns that overzealous American lawyers could seize on the agreement to sue American companies on behalf of aggrieved factory workers in Bangladesh — perhaps in the event of a factory fire. Gap said it supported much of the plan, but it proposed changes that would greatly limit any legal liability for a company that violated the plan. 

Under Gap’s proposal, if a retailer were found to have violated the agreement, the only remedy would generally be public expulsion from the factory safety plan. 

“The U.S. is quite litigious,” said Bill Chandler, a Gap spokesman. “We put forward specific proposals that we thought would bring other American retailers into the fold. We thought it would be a step forward and would turn it into a much more global agreement.” 

Consumer and labor groups said Gap’s concerns about litigation were overblown. They complained that Gap’s stance against the agreement had helped to dissuade other American companies from signing.
“Gap’s demand is that the agreement be made unenforceable — and therefore meaningless,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a group sponsored by 175 colleges and universities. “What Gap wants is the right to renege on its commitments when it wishes.” 

Some advocates say the European retailers signed the joint accord more readily than the Americans because Europe accounts for 60 percent of Bangladesh apparel exports and the United States one-fourth.
Wal-Mart also expressed concerns about the joint Bangladesh safety plan, saying it “introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.” 
Some of Australia's biggest retailers have refused to sign an international agreement to improve fire safety and working conditions in Bangladesh after the country's worst industrial accident.

Woolworths, Kmart and Target - that all have factories operating out of Bangladesh - have declined to sign the legally binding agreement, which aims to compel retailers operating in Bangladesh to improve conditions and pay for factory repairs and fire safety.

Major chains in Europe, including H&M, Benetton, Primark, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Zara and Tesco, have all signed the pact to prevent another industrial disaster after the Rana Plaza garment factory, which supplied Western textiles, collapsed three weeks ago and killed more than 1100 workers.

The companies who sign the agreement will establish and pay for a fire and building safety program in Bangladesh for a period of five years. The program will include routine building and fire inspections, improved and fair working conditions, appropriate compensation in the case of a fire.

That's the least that should occur.  I hope it goes much further, soon, so that the well-being of workers, not just the buildings they occupy, improves significantly.

Major Australian retailers refuse to sign Bangladesh agreement

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