"These sweatshops are the real culprits, under paying workers, forcing long hours and even locking fire escapes to prevent shrinkage. Do the western companies know about this? Sadly, the answer is yes!"

-- Misha Hussain

2' TALKING POINT is a new format produced by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It presents a pressing issue or a news item developed with a personal touch by our AlertNet and TrustLaw correspondents, in two minutes or less.

Filming & b-roll: Shanshan Chen
Creative direction: Claudine Boeglin
Photography: Reuters
Editing: Shanshan Chen
Design: Ye Li
More on: trust.org

Transcript:

The tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza that killed over 1,000 workers in Bangladesh has thrown up a number of ethical questions for the garments industry.

Who is responsible? How should they be punished?And how do we stop this happening again?

Importantly, can we as consumers, producers and national governments take collective action to protect worker’s rights as well as profit margins?

The short answer is, we can’t. There has to be a trade off between profits and rights.

Recently, a number of European high street stores have pledged $60 million over five years to ensure their factories meet modern health and safety standards.

However, this amounts to just 0.1 per cent of the annual profit of a transnational company like H&M.

Whilst commendable, the investment is desperately low and does little to address the root problem.

Most popular brands producing goods in Bangladesh contract factories that follow national health and safety guidelines.

The problem arises when successful lines sell out or when demand increases coming up to certain times in the year, like Christmas or Eid.

This forces the factory owners to sub-contract production to sweatshops, which don’t respect worker’s rights.

These sweatshops are the real culprits, under paying workers, forcing long hours and even locking fire escapes to prevent shrinkage.

Do the western companies know about this? Sadly, the answer is yes!

However, because they do not directly contract the sweatshops, they often claim innocence and escape liability.

Bangladesh makes an estimated $12 billion per year, that's 10 per cent of its GDP, from exporting garments.

It has a lot to gain and offer the world in terms of its human capital.

However, sub-contracting to sweatshops has to be shut down to avoid such catastrophes happening in the future.

Feigning ignorance can no longer be tolerated.

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