Social Justice: Curtailing corporate greed, human misery in sweatshops

By Tony Magliano

Guest Columnist

Corporate greed and human misery often meet in the workplace. And nowhere else is that more true than in sweatshops.

Taking advantage of extremely poor workers in the developing world, many wealthy companies from economically developed nations, demand that employees labor at a fast pace, for long hours, in deplorable conditions, with no benefits –– all for the sake of corporate profit.

And worse yet, workers often experience serious injury and death.

Thus was the case when the poorly constructed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed on April 24, killing more than 716 sweatshop workers.

This dilapidated building housed five factories that produced garments for the U.S., Canada and Europe.

With hundreds of additional workers still missing, this disaster is the worst in the history of the garment industry, according to Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR) www.globallabourrights.org/.

According to the IGLHR, a sweatshop employee named Jannat, who worked for New Wave Style, said she and other workers refused to enter the building after they discovered large cracks in the factory walls. But "managers at the factories threatened us saying they would withhold our [month’s] wages if we did not agree to work."

The owner of the Rana Plaza factory building "along with gang members holding sticks were standing in front of the main entrance gate threatening that they would beat us with sticks and break our bones if we didn’t work that morning. We were frightened and had no choice but to go in to work," said Jannat.

After working for one hour the power went off. "As soon as the generator was switched on the building started to vibrate and shake … there was a huge bang."

The building then collapsed, trapping Jannat. Fortunately, she was rescued. But many others were not so fortunate.

Had strong legislation protecting workers’ basic rights been in place in industrialized nations –– especially in the U.S. –– this tragedy would have been avoided.

Corporations benefit greatly from intellectual property and copyright laws. It’s long overdue that workers laboring in miserable conditions receive the same legal protection.

Let’s work together to ensure they get it!

E-mail and call your two U.S. senators and House representative urging them to reintroduce and actively support the "Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act," which according to Kernaghan, would provide transparent corporate disclosure –– enabling labor rights organizations to inspect factories producing products for wealthy retailers.

If reintroduced and passed by Congress, this bill would also prohibit the import, export or sale of products that violate the International Labor Organization’s standards –– which prohibit child labor, and guarantee workers’ rights to safe working conditions, to collective bargaining and protection against forced labor.

Donations to help Bangladeshi victims and their families can be made at www.globallabourrights.org/.

Lamenting over the Bangladesh factory tragedy, Pope Francis passionately condemned the injustice of their $50 a month salary saying, "This was the payment of these people who have died." This is known as "slave labor!"

And he added, "Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!"

Let’s build an economic system that does not go against God.

Passing the "Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act" would be a giant step in that direction.

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