The world was reminded last week that the pursuit of the cheapest goods possible isn’t necessarily a good thing! Hundreds of Bangladesh textile workers died needlessly because their employers forced them to work in a building that was structurally unsound. Even though there were obvious cracks in the walls of the facility and concerns were expressed about the safety of the building 2 days before the horrible tragedy, employees were forced back to work.
Why was this situation allowed? Because the pressure on manufacturers to produce goods at the lowest possible price drove employers to cut corners even though it meant sacrificing basic safety standards. To add insult to injury, these Bangladesh workers were only paid $38.00 per month for an 80-hour work week.
The above tragedy is not an isolated incident. Last year, over 100 Bangladesh textile workers burned to death in their place of employment. They were unable to escape the building because their employer locked them inside, a routine practice in this country. In fact, there have been almost 7000 deaths this year within the textile industry in Bangladesh alone.
Years ago, China was considered the cheapest place to produce low cost goods. When Chinese workers started demanding better pay and working conditions (rates in China now range between $141.00 and $243.00 per month), many companies switched production to India (pay averages $80.00/month in India). When Canada changed our tariff laws and began offering preferential tariff free privileges to Bangladesh, companies shifted production there. If Bangladesh becomes more expensive, companies will find another country for their production and will look for ways to exploit those workers. So what’s the solution to this issue? As long as customers continue to buy the cheapest products possible regardless of the conditions in which these items were made, nothing will change. The ONLY way to force long-term change is for consumers to become better educated about where the items they buy are produced.
The movement towards Fair Trade Coffee was started because consumers realized the only way to ensure fair working conditions and wages for the coffee workers was to alter purchasing decisions. And it made a big difference. If consumers take similar action related to their buying decisions over clothing and other textile products, we can ensure long-term change for the textile workers overseas as well.
As an aside, Tail Wags Helmet Covers has continually refused to shift production of our adorable helmet covers overseas despite the fact profits would increase. We even turned down the investment offer by the Dragons (CBC Dragons’ Den) because a condition of the agreement was shifting production overseas. I am very proud to say all of our sewers who assist with the making of our helmet covers are paid well above minimum wage (and goodness knows they deserve it because the sewing of our helmet covers requires considerable skill), full benefits and they work reasonable hours with a one hour lunch break and plenty of washroom breaks. When asked on the CBC National News why I don’t switch production overseas even though I would make a lot more money, I replied that profit isn’t the only criteria. I could never run a company if I knew the employees were being exploited. In other words, I feel proud to run an exclusively Canadian company where everyone involved enjoys their job and is properly compensated for their efforts.
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