Who is responsible for building safety in countries like Bangladesh?

Apr 30, 2013


Members of the Bangladeshi Army carry the body of a garment worker as heavy equipment is brought in to remove debris following an eight-story building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 30, 2013.; Credit: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

With the death toll well past 350 people and another 1,000 still missing after the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh, workers are now using heavy machinery to lift concrete slabs. Under those slabs, workers expect to find hundreds more dead bodies. Although this is not the first tragedy due to fatal building construction in Bangladesh, this has been the most severe. The Associated Press reports that even after a fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. that killed 112 people last  year, there have been another 41 “fire incidents” in Bangladesh factories. So, who is responsible for building safety and preventing future deaths?

International unions are going after the retailers who contract garment production in these buildings. Although private audits and checks already exist, the unions say it’s not enough and these international clothing brands need to be legally responsible for worker safety.

Or, should the burden rest on the Bangladeshi government? The garment industry is worth billions in Bangladesh, and citizens are demanding they invest more funds into factory inspections and audits. Retailers argue that the government is responsible for the lives of its citizens, and local factory owners need to keep their buildings up to code.

And do consumers bear responsibility? Retailers say that upgrading overseas building standards are financially detrimental because of the fierce competition for low prices. As a consumer, do these incidents affect your buying decisions? Would you pay more for clothing?

Ben Hensler, Deputy Director and General Counsel for Worker Rights Consortium

Fred Smith, Founder and Chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute; Director of the Center for Advancing Capitalism

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