Home / China / View

Dhaka building collapse a lesson for all

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-10 07:06

The fact that more than 2,400 people have been rescued from the ruins of the eight-story Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh is a relief given that the death toll went beyond 900 by Thursday. But the shock waves the collapse of the building sent around the world cannot be ignored.

This week, the Bangladeshi government announced that it will inspect thousands of garment factories for possible building flaws following the collapse of the building that housed several garment factories, shops and a bank, in a suburb of the capital Dhaka on April 24. Sadly, that is unlikely to mean that such a tragedy will not be repeated, as we have seen a string of such accidents in the country in the past few years.

The owner and eight other people, including the owners of the garment factories, have been detained, as officials said the building's owner illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though the building was not designed to support such weight.

Meanwhile, several European and US companies, which had outsourced garment production to factories in the collapsed building, have come under pressure from angry protesters. However, these brand names are arguing that it is local corruption that should be held accountable for the disaster, citing the index from Transparency International.

That corruption is responsible for shoddy buildings is probably not news in Bangladesh or even in China. However, this does not reduce the guilt of many multinational companies, which have been clearly taking advantage of the low labor, safety and environment standards in Bangladesh and other developing countries.

All too often they are prepared to turn a blind eye to the problematic working conditions of their suppliers and contractors as long as they can get their products at a lower cost.

For these companies, corporate social responsibility is often a double standard, depending on whether they are operating in their own countries or in developing countries.

While Dhaka is thousands of kilometers away from most Chinese cities, the disaster in the second-largest garment-exporting nation in the world should be a wake up call, as China is the biggest garment exporter in the world.

Some Chinese cities conducted probes after the Dhaka tragedy and halted production at garment factories that did not meet safety standards. However, most cities did not, perhaps because they have become indifferent to industrial disasters.

In Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, for example, the past seven months have seen four industrial accidents on subway construction sites, including one on Monday that killed five people.

As many Chinese cities are rushing to build subway lines, industrial accidents have become as common as the notorious mining disasters that have haunted the nation for decades.

Statistics from China's State Administration of Work Safety show that 71,983 people died in a total of 337,000 industrial accidents across China in 2012. That averages out 200 deaths and 950 accidents a day.

Progress is obvious in the field. The total death toll from mine disasters in China for the first time fell under 1,500 in 2012, compared to 1,973 deaths in 2011. Still, the number is strikingly high compared with those in developed economies.

The high incidence of work-related accidents in China means that there is still much to be done to protect the rights and safety of workers in the country, which has the largest manufacturing workforce in the world.

In this sense, the bloody Dhaka factory disaster should be a lesson for multinationals, governments, and companies and workers of the importance of safety standards, and observing them.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349