Sunday, May 19, 2013

Global retailers look to cover their asses in wake of Bangladesh disaster

1100 dead, worst industrial disaster since Bhopal
by Richard Mellor

The deaths of more than 1100 workers has brought the usual limp cover-our-asses response from the global retailers that have their products made in Bangladesh. Many of these firms are deciding its time to get on board the proposal from the Workers Rights Consortium, an NGO made up of liberal academia, the trade Union bureaucracy (US AFL-CIO that refuses to defend its own members), and some student groups. The AFL-CIO officialdom is a bit embarrassed at their impotence in the face of this capitalist brutality and indifference when it comes to human life. The Rana Plaza collapse is the worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster.

Prior to the Rana Plaza collapse only two firms had signed on to what is a toothless proposal anyway despite it being referred to as an “ambitious” proposal in the big business media.  For these corporations toilet breaks are ambitious proposals when it comes to workers’ rights in impoverished countries like Bangladesh.

As I pointed out in a previous blog with regards to this “ambitious” effort on the part of corporations to protect workers lives and rights:

To ensure effectiveness, the program advises, the agreement would "establish" a chief inspector.  This inspector would be, and here's why Business Week is OK with it, "independent of companies, trade unions and factories to execute a safety program."

Here's how BW describes the process:
"Audits of hazards would be made public. Corrective actions recommended by the inspector would be mandatory. Retailers would agree to pay factories enough so that they could afford renovations, and retailers would be forbidden from doing business with noncompliant facilities.”

This would all be enforced through the courts in "retailers home countries" which means here in the US or in Europe for most of them.”

The idea that an individual like the program's inspector is actually independent is nonsense.  The whole idea is to strengthen the control of the capitalist class.  The only independence this individual will have is from the influence of the workers and our organization while representing the interests of the capitalist class.   Workers cannot rely on bourgeois justice, legal system or political parties to defend our interests. 

1100 deaths does put a little pressure on the coupon clippers who profit from the workers of Bangladesh, many of them women and children, and anyone with a brain knows that despite the factory owners in Bangladesh being corrupt thugs and the government with them, the real power lies in the board rooms of Wall Street and other financial centers. They want to ensure they have some cover when the next disaster hits. 

Despite more retailers finally jumping on board the WRC’s proposal, companies like Abercrombie and Fitch, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger; the Gap and WalMart have declined to do so.  The Gap says it leaves it open to litigation and WalMart claims it will be upgrading its own plan it initiated after earlier disasters.

The Workers Rights Consortium opposes WalMart’s plan because, “unlike its plan, it contains no binding commitment to help fund improvements to make factories safe.” according to the British bourgeois journal The Economist. WalMart doesn’t agree and claims its plan will result in faster closures of unsafe factories than the WRC’s plan.

All this petty bickering between would be reformers as workers die like flies, never mind living in squalor, misses the point. Neither WalMart nor any of these giant multinationals will be bound by such an agreement.  The WalMart family heirs are worth about $100 billion.  The GDP of Bangladesh is about three times that.  It’s worth noting that in a country whose industry is dominated by huge global corporations, 31.5% of the population is below the poverty line according to the CIA World Fact Book data. This is how wealth is made.

Naturally, the trade Union bureaucracy welcomes the WRC proposal as a significant victory which is no surprise as they are a part of it. But as I wrote in previous comments on this issue, only workers self organization and workers ownership and control of society’s dominant industries including the finance industry both in Bangladesh and throughout the world, will prevent catastrophe’s like the deaths of 1100 of us in the Rana Plaza disaster.

Read earlier blogs on this subject here and here.

No comments: