FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

As Bangladesh Burns

by DAVID MACARAY

One very important reason why more than 100 workers (mainly women) died November 25 in the fire that engulfed Tarzeen Fashions, a textile plant outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, is because management chose not to spend the necessary money to prevent such a tragedy from occurring.  In an industrial setting, safety can be a significant expense.  Safety costs money.  And, as we all know, money is everything.

During my tenure as a union rep, I once had a revealing safety-related conversation with a mid-level manager whom I’ll call “Fred.”  An outgoing, talkative man roughly my own age, Fred liked to boast that because he had a degree in mechanical engineering, as well as an MBA (both from UCLA), he was exactly the kind of manager a modern company was looking for.

He liked to tell people that his mechanical engineering background proved he couldn’t be “bullshitted,” and that his advanced business degree from a respected college proved he “could lead people.”  Clearly, this was a man destined for bigger things.  Even though I sort of liked Fred (like me, he was a serious baseball fan), lots of people in the plant—both management and hourly—didn’t.  They found him obnoxious.

In any event, Fred was the first person I ever heard refer to industrial safety as “overhead.”  Our union was a couple of months away from sitting down with the company and beginning formal negotiations on a new contract.  I would be chairman of the negotiating team.  Presumably, Fred thought he could soften me up with a sobering overview of the plant’s economic status.  I didn’t hold this transparent little tactic against him.  Business was business.

But Fred surprised me by describing plant safety (along with raw materials, labor costs, training costs, maintenance costs, etc.) as “overhead.”  Admittedly, I’d never thought of safety as an “expense,” certainly not in the way that raw materials were.  For one thing, the prospect of people getting injured on the job seemed too personal; for another, because this was a union shop, and the plant was exceedingly safe, I’d never given it much thought.

When I questioned him about it, he made it clear that all variable costs were a matter of degree.  You only have so large a pie, and it’s up to you how you wish to slice it.  How cheap do you go on raw materials before you compromise quality?  How many weeks do you train a new hire before you waste money overdoing it?  And how much do you spend on safety?  You can spend a million bucks on guards and rails and warning signs, and still have people get hurt.  It’s all a matter of degree.

By most accounts, the Bangladesh tragedy could have been prevented by management simply spending more money on safety.  Money for new fire extinguishers, money for more access, money for additional fire escapes, money for conducting regular evacuation drills, and money for old-fashioned fire prevention measures (since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires).  Of course, if Tarzeen Fashions had been a union shop, the company would’ve been forced to spend that money.

Speaking of industrial safety, the LA Times (November 29, 2012) reported that David C. Hughart, former president of the Massey coal mine in West Virginia where, in 2010, 29 miners died in an explosion, had been charged with “conspiracy to violate federal mining safety laws.”

Among other things, Hughart is alleged to have alerted mine officials that federal inspectors were on their way to check out the premises, and urged them to falsify their official safety documents.  Believe me, you could never dream of pulling a stunt like that with a union safety committee breathing down your neck.

In Bangladesh, the second-leading textile exporter in the world (behind China), industrial leaders and their government cronies are not only violently opposed to labor unions, they are more than willing to demonstrate that opposition.  Earlier this year, Aminul Islam, one of the country’s most respected labor activists, was brutally murdered.  His body was found on a road outside Dhaka.  He had been tortured.

As for those American companies (e.g., the Gap, Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger, et al) who, while having no direct ownership, rely on Bangladesh for their textile products, they continue to plead ignorance.  They say they had no knowledge of the woeful safety conditions.  Like those upstanding German citizens who lived in towns adjacent to Nazi death camps, they claim to have had no idea what was going on.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net.

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
Sheldon Richman
The Real Danger From Trump is Ignored
Jay Moore
Learning from History: Resistance in the 1850s and Today
Matthew Stevenson
Down and Out in London and Paris With Macron, May, Trump and Gatsby
David Jaffee
Rolling Back Democracy
Fred Gardner
Irrefutable Proof: Russian Election Meddling Documented!
Jess Guh
Neurology Study Reveals What We Already Know: People of Color Get Worse Healthcare
Joseph Natoli
A Culture of Narcissism, a Politics of Personality
David Rosen
Politics and the Agent of Social Change
Ian Almond
The Secret Joke of Our Democracy: Britain’s Elephant in the Boardroom
Andre Vltchek
Revolution Vs Passivity
Erik Rydberg
Stop the Jordan Cove LNG Project #NoLNG
Vijay Prashad
When Israeli Fighter Jets Almost Killed Nehru
Christopher Brauchli
The Certified Trump
Chuck Collins
Congress Wants to Cut Your Health Care — And Billionaires’ Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail