On May 1 the rest of the world celebrated International Workers Day, which is recognized in more than 80 countries around the world. In the United States, we wait until Labor Day to celebrate the worker.
But May Day this year was overshadowed by the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 420 workers. The vast majority of these victims were young women. The workers were forced into their workplace even though there were large cracks in the foundation. They were threatened with lost wages and even physically threatened if they did not go into work at 8 a.m. By 9 a.m. the building lay in ruins.
This tragedy follows the Tazreen fire, also in Bangladesh, which killed 100 workers in November. Many of those victims were locked in their building and could not get out.
Much of the clothing in the building collapse would have been shipped to Canada and Europe. The clothes found after the fire were destined for Wal-Mart and Disney stores. Apparently this is the very high cost paid by some workers in the Third World so that we have the right to cheap clothing. According to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, the workers in the collapsed building were paid 22 cents per hour.
We all like bargains, but I wonder, how can one feel good in a blouse or sweatshirt which might cost $10 or $20, knowing that the person who sewed the garment got about 5 cents for their labor. Surely doubling or even tripling their wages would cost the Wal-Marts of the world virtually nothing and add little to our price tag, but would mean much to the working poor in the Third World.
Americans are hardworking individuals who want to be fairly paid. This is why I am surprised that we as workers and working families in the United States don't have more empathy with those in other countries who make almost all of our clothes, shoes, toys and electronics. In the global economy, these people are our neighbors and should be both fairly compensated and provided with safe work environments.
But there is an ongoing race to the bottom to find the cheapest labor on earth. Politicians avoid the issue, and corporations will add to their bottom line. In the end all the rest will suffer.