Back in April the Financial Post published an article on a recent Joe Fresh Lawsuit.
The claim suggests “that given the record of previous Bangladeshi workplace tragedies, Joe Fresh should have known that those sewing clothes for it at the Rana Plaza were in moral danger, and that subcontractors were paying “extremely low wages.” ”
The lawsuit does indeed make a good point. How could Joe Fresh (or any company operating in Bangladesh) have NOT known. How disconnected from your product are you?
Today things are not looking better for Bangladesh. According to the article, the country is now facing an economic crisis as investment has receded and gone elsewhere. The jobs may be dangerous with poor conditions, but there is some argument that it is better than no jobs at all.
How do we fix this?
Changes to labour rights, the article argues, cannot be imposed but must come from within and governments of those countries must create and uphold labour laws for their citizens. The article suggests that outside forces (either international laws, imposition form foreign countries or lawsuits) will not change to existing labour standards or have terrible unintended consequences.
I am concerned by this argument. It seems to neatly wash our hands of the issue. We can continue to buy as we like. It is the fault of the consumer if countries are willing to let their citizens work under deplorable conditions. They need to be responsible for their own citizens.
The argument brings to mind a whole slew of questions… Is there even a will to change laws in those countries? Can countries afford enforcement of new laws? If one country cracks down, will the productions costs go up? Will manufacturing will shift elsewhere? Will companies and their shareholders accept reduced profit margins? Will consumers pay more?
As consumers we should sit idly by and wait for the end of corruption and exploitation? I don’t think that is the answer either. Buy-in from the manufacturing countries would make the process faster and more effective. But also we need more, we need a global will for change from governments, producers, manufacturers, distributors, corporations and consumers. Only then will we see the change we need.