Friday, June 28, 2013

A Rare Moment of Praise For The U.S.

Despite being deeply cynical about Amercian poltics in general, and Barack Obama in particular, a rare opportunity to praise both has just arisen. Although relatively modest in scope, in response to the terriblly unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh that have cost so many workers their lives and maimed countless others, the U.S government has moved to suspend Bangladesh’s special trading privileges to force that country to improve the situation.

Although the greatest source of these dangerous conditions is the clothing industry, it will, unfortunately, be only minimally affected by the suspension, for reasons explained here. Nonetheless, it is hoped the move will put pressure on both Canada and the EU to take appropriate measures to further 'encourage' the Bangladeshi government to clean up its act:

Since the April disaster, Canadian labour activists have tried to convince Ottawa to use its tariff program to force Bangladesh to improve safety and establish workers’ rights.

The pressure is now on Canada, said Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“I applaud the U.S. decision. I hope Canada and the EU follow,” Yussuff said from Ottawa.

Alas, such a hope, at least as it applies to Canada, appears to be a forlorn one. It would seen that Mr. Harper and his corporate handlers have never met a situation of desperate workers it has not tried to exploit, hence its fond embrace of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, its changes to E.I., its efforts to weaken unions domestically, etc. etc.

A finance ministry official told the Star that Canada is “concerned about working conditions in the global ready-made garment sector” and supports efforts to improve standards.


It does not appear Ottawa has any plans to follow the American lead, calling the move largely “symbolic” as it doesn’t apply to the garment industry.

No doubt Corporate Canada and Mr. Harper (separated at birth?) will soon unleash a torrent of rhetoric about constructive engagement through trade to improve the conditions of workers abroad. No doubt Galen Weston will continue with his sanctimonious rhetoric. And no doubt countless lives will continue to be lost in Bangladesh and elsewhere if no one else picks up where the Amertican example leaves off.


  1. A short documentary on the CBC last night exposed the indentured servitude which is the temporary foreign workers program, Lorne.

    No, Mr. Harper carries no brief for labour.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Owen. I'll see if I can find it online.

  2. Bangladesh didn't create these horrible and dangerous working conditions. They were prescribed by the huge companies that buy the stuff these shops make and set the prices they'll pay. What will Obama do, if he makes it harder for Bangladeshis to work for dirt, when those North American buyers simply take their orders to the next hellhole country? If anyone is to be "punished" it should be the companies that knowingly encourage these conditions by paying prices that allow nothing better.

    There's great dislocation caused when our big name clothiers move shop to the next easily exploited country. That's what globalization does. It allows multinationals to "shop" markets, pitting one vulnerable (or corrupt) state against another. Notice that the brands associated with these sweat shops never own the factories where the abuses are inflicted. It's not their capital that's at risk by these sanctions. They just hop a plane and negotiate the same or better deal elsewhere.

    Obama should be moving against the multinationals but he knows his country's "bought and paid for" Congress doesn't hesitate to thwart sanctions against their benefactors.

    1. You make clear how intractable this problem is, Mound; nonetheless, even though the measures taken by the U.S. are modest ones, keeping the attention on the abysmal working conditions and pay of a country like Bangladesh may do something towards amelioration. The government itself gives tacit approval to the multinationals' depradations; until very recently, for example, the law there required garment workers to get the permission of factory owners before they could unionize. That has changed in the aftermath of the recent building collapse that killed so many.

      One only hopes that the focus continues to remain on these woefully underprotected and woefully underpaid workers.