The price of cheap
In our view
One of the most insidious arguments against abolishing American slavery was a practical one: Slavery was "a necessary evil attending upon the great good of cheap cotton."
No doubt, cheap, durable cotton goods helped raise the standard of living for the middle class and free workers in Britain and America.
But it came at a cost morally intolerable to a great many people then, and to everyone now.
American slavery is dead. Yet the "great good" of cheap productions made under morally abominable conditions remains.
It's just moved offshore.
In Bangladesh, an eight-story garment factory fell down last week and killed at least 304 workers.
Western clothing brands rely heavily on Bangladesh, which is the world's third-leading garment-making nation. The fallen building alone was said to have produced millions of shirts, pants and other garments a year. In the rubble of the collapsed building were labels for clothes made for many well-known budget fashion chains.
Perhaps some of what's in your closet was made there.
There were many shops in the fallen building, and many of them had passed inspection from international monitoring groups. But these groups are looking for things like smoke detectors and whether exit doors are locked.
Instead, the workers were killed by the building itself, built unsoundly and probably illegally. That is outside the purview of the labor groups.
Yet the lax or corrupt enforcement of government construction rules is part of what draws manufacturers to these countries.
Western consumers have become more alert to the moral consequences of their economic activities. Retailers have responded to the pressure. But clearly not enough is done.
Leaving reform up to the authorities in a corrupted country is not good enough. The big retailers should take responsibility and see to it that the places their products are made are not death traps of any sort. And their consumers should keep the pressure on until they do.