The Bangladesh garment building disaster prompted some western clothing brands that were having items made there to promise financial compensation for the deaths. The European Union is reconsidering trade arrangements, and some consumers feel confused over whether they should feel a shared responsibility because of their low-price shopping habits.
An unidentified shopper in a British high street said: “We shouldn’t buy things that are made that way.”
“Who do you think is responsible?” she was asked.
“I am, and you are if you buy. But I think Bangladeshis are too – they have to be more safe and secure.”
Bangladesh today competes for business with other countries in the region, China foremost. In developing this it has ignored conditions for the workers. Around three million of them, women for the majority, earn roughly 30 euros per month, in some four and a half thousand factories.
Giving preferential access, the EU buys 60 percent of this, with figures rising: eight billion euros-worth in 2011 and 8.6 billion last year.
The main markets are Germany, the UK, Spain and France. Brussels has repeated a call saying Dhaka must ensure safety standards in factories.
Highlighting alleged criminality, the factory collapse was the third deadly incident in six months to raise questions about labour conditions.
Analyst Bryan Robert, research director at Kantar Retail, said Europe cannot ignore the problems: “I think it is up to regional government such as the European Union, it’s up to national and local government within these low-wage economies to make sure the correct procedures are being adhered to.”
In January, the European Commission warned Dhaka to act immediately to raise standards, after a garment factory fire killed six employees. Another fire in November more had killed more than 100. The US then threatened to suspend preferences but didn’t.
Workers’ demonstrations have been demanding capital punishment for the owners of the death traps. Western activists who criticise companies for turning a blind eye to abuses say they should press for improvements but should not pull out of Bangladesh and other low-cost countries, because poor workers would pay the price.