The Catastrophe of Bangladesh – An emblematic case of globalised capitalism
Alejandro Teitelbaum has devoted many years to work on the issue of human rights in the realm of global corporations and other business enterprises. As the former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, for the American Association of Jurists –based in Buenos Aires, he spent time toiling with the bureaucracies of the UN and member States, in his pursuit of an international legal framework that would harness business activity so that it would stop violating a wide array of human rights in its sphere of influence, as is customarily the case today. As such, he witnessed how, time and time again, the bureaucracies succumbed to the will of the leading economic powers, who were adamant at maintaining the preeminence of corporate interest over their responsibility for their infringement on human rights.
In this brief Teitelbaum analyses the catastrophe that occurred in Bangladesh in a building where more than 3000 people worked and where almost a third died. The author makes it clear that this is not an isolated mishap but the most recent "accident" in an extremely perverse system that operates consciously knowing the high probability of recurrence. The author lays bare the enormous hypocrisy of transnationals, that often react only after these calamities, which are a byproduct of blatant and deliberate corporate irresponsibilities, are exposed in the international press, with the sole purpose of whitewashing their image. His assessment exposes how the whole system is corrupt and subdued by the power and greed of transnationals. Given that the only reason transnationals outsource their garment production to Bangladesh is to maximise their profit margins to in turn maximise shareholder value, the entire production cycle subjects subcontracted workshops to accept the lowest prices. This forces subcontractors to pay modern- slave-work wages, and prevents them from meeting the most rudimentary standards of industrial safety.
Then come the accidents, and companies sign agreements that avoid addressing the fundamental problem. Agreements that although they mitigate the effects of the context of blatant super-exploitation, they deliberately do not take responsibility for being the intellectual authors and material beneficiaries of said context. At best they offer derisory indemnities for the bereaved, which amount to little more than the amount of income of the current international poverty line. Incidentally, the vast majority of Bangladeshi textile workers not only earn half or less of what is considered the minimum wage necessary to sustain the reproduction of the labour force in that country, but they are paid daily wages below the international poverty line. From the context of TLWNSI’s concept –of equal pay for equal work– a living wage, according to the cost of living in Bangladesh, is at a gargantuan distance from reality. Nonetheless, the payment of a living wage within thirty years in accordance to our concept is realistic if the Bangladesh State commits to this endeavour. What is greatly lacking, as in much of the world, is the political will to make it happen.