Since “competition” and “efficiency” and “unit cost” are key to success in international trade and to maintaining the prosperous lifestyle we all enjoy in today’s modern America of today, it’s not too big a surprise that U.S. retailers might balk at anything that would make their costs go up. That’s just the Free Market, right? And so if, from time to time, a garment factory catches fire or collapses or is knocked over by a strong breeze, that kind of sucks for the people who die, but it’s not like WE bear any responsibility, we didn’t know, and we don’t really want to know, do we? (Quick check…Yr Doktor Zoom’s t-shirt was hecho en Mexico and his jeans were… uh-oh… made in Bangladesh? Crap. Looks like it’s another No-Pants Tuesday!)
But following the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,127 people, there are some hopeful signs that conditions may start changing: Bangladesh will “allow the country’s garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners,” which is awfully nice of them, and the world’s largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh, H&M, has announced it will sign on to an agreement requiring factories it buys from to meet enforceable fire and building safety standards. So, progress! Except that a couple of U.S. America’s biggest retailers, the Gap and Wal-Mart, are still holding out on signing the agreement.
Gap (which also owns Old Navy and the Alanis-Morissette-taunting brand Banana Republic) is close to signing, according to Reuters, but “first wanted a change in the way disputes are resolved in the courts.” The article doesn’t indicate what exactly that change would involve, but only a cynic would suggest that Gap is asking for some kind of built-in advantage if workers complain, right?
Wal-Mart is also not saying anything about signing on to the safety standards, although it has “called on Bangladesh to shut one factory and examine another after its own inspections found safety problems,” so maybe that’s something, maybe; the megacorporation also has stopped buying clothes made at the factory it’s asking to be closed.
Fine, we’ll put our pants back on. But only because we need to go out and get the mail.