Americans can’t resist a bargain, and when it comes to clothing there aren’t many bargains that can compare with the ones from Bangladesh. That’s no surprise given how Bangladeshi garment workers are paid as little as $37 per month and how the factories they work in are so poorly constructed and maintained. The situation should change for the better as a result of a landmark agreement Monday between the Bangladeshi government and a couple of the largest apparel retailers in the world, and a raise promised workers in three months. If it means the price of these low-end fashions rises a bit, so be it.
The sweatshop conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories wouldn’t be tolerated in America — they were outlawed 112 years ago, after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; but even if they were legal, our sensibilities wouldn’t allow them.
Yet, perhaps because ignorance is bliss, Americans who know little of where or how these clothes are made think nothing of buying them because they’re cheap. But there’s a price for that cheapness, as the tragedies in Bangladeshi factories over the past six months (which have claimed more than 1,250 textile workers’ lives) have made clear.
Swedish retail giant H&M, with a store at Crossgates Mall, was one of three major global merchants to agree to help pay for fire safety and building improvements in Bangladesh Monday, and while more large retailers are expected to follow suit, two of America’s largest — Gap and Walmart — are reportedly holding out.
Perhaps their customers should send a message, if not expressly telling their managements then by boycotting their clothing for a time. Low prices are great, but not when lives are lost in the process.