After the death of more than 1,127 workers in the April collapse of a garment factory building in Savar, Bangladesh, many of the world’s largest clothing retailers signed a pact to help improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories.
Japanese retailers should join this pact, or make their own, to ensure that clothing sold in Japan is made at factories that do not endanger the lives of workers.
The number of similar deaths in labor accidents in Bangladesh have already reached into the thousands since 2005, while the mainly women and girl workers continue to make an average of $37 to $55 a month, the lowest pay for such work in the world — almost half of the next lowest pay in Cambodia and one-fifth the pay of Chinese garment workers.
In response to the tragedy, companies around the world, such as H&M, Zara, Tesco signed a five-year, legally binding contract that forces them to take a larger role in making sure that the garment factories in Bangladesh follow safety guidelines and protect workers’ rights. Other companies, such as the Gap and Walmart, have hesitated to participate.
Most of the primarily European countries also agreed to offer money toward the effort and to stop doing business with any factory that refuses to improve conditions. Japanese clothing companies should join this effort, not just for Bangladesh but for all countries where they outsource production for cheaper labor costs.
Not pulling out of the country and working to improve conditions through such agreements may benefit Bangladeshi workers more in the long run.
Garment and apparel companies in Japan should understand that their way of doing business has a powerful impact on other countries. Ensuring the safety and well-being of workers, whether they are regular employees at home or subcontracted workers in another country, should be the basis of doing business, not an afterthought when disaster strikes.
Japanese consumers should be aware, too, of what they buy. Some retailers, such as the large Uniqlo chain owned by Fast Retailing, have made an effort to reassure customers that their clothing is made under safe and fair conditions.
Other retailers in Japan should open up their entire chain of production to scrutiny so that customers can know exactly where their clothes are made and under what conditions. Customers should demand to know more about what they wear.
Large clothing retailers should force their subcontracted factories to stay open to outside monitoring and establish a set of ethical business principles to be followed.
If Japanese companies join the effort to improve the conditions of the workers they employ, even though indirectly and at a distance, such tragedies can be prevented in the future.