Catastrophe in Bangladesh

Posted May 05, 2013, at 12:02 p.m.

For a week, rescuers in Bangladesh have sifted through the wreckage of an eight-story garment factory, listening to the cries of people trapped in the rubble, smelling the stink of rotting bodies, consoling the families who came to look for loved ones whom they will probably never see alive again. More than 400 deaths are confirmed, and that total will surely increase.

Both Western consumers and the companies that serve them must respond to this tragedy. Primark, a European chain that got some of its clothes from a factory housed in the building that collapsed, has insisted that it has a superior ethics policy, working with the Ethical Trading Initiative, a third-party standard-setting organization, and conducting thousands of audits in recent years.

However, its methods didn’t work. The company says it will pay more attention to building safety in the future. But this episode should prompt a thorough re-examination of corporate ethics codes and the groups that companies tap to monitor compliance. The public, meanwhile, should demand to see the results.

Most important, as it strikes the balance between growth and labor protections, the government must develop the capacity to enforce its own rules. The building that collapsed last week did not comply with existing codes. According to the rules already in place, no one should have been working there when it collapsed.

The Washington Post (May 2) printed on March 24, 2017