Bangladesh and the Garment Industry

Dateline NBC is running news documentary on
garment workers in Bangladesh as I write. They make garments for GAP, Wal Mart,
K-Mart and the NFL. Despite signing agreements to treat workers justly the
plant owners surreptitiously violate the agreements. They claim they must do
this because they are squeezed by the corporations for whom they make the
clothing.

The garment industry in Bangladesh is featured in a solid documentary piece called “Clothes Line,” on NBC’s Dateline as I write this. The piece shows working conditions of female garment industry employees who are paid pennies per hour and work long hours despite codes of conduct signed by their employers.

Their wages are barely enough for survival and certainly not for an acceptable, decent standard of living. That means, for example, that they can afford lentils but not vegetables, cheap but poorly constructed clothing, rent for substandard housing.

Dateline’s Chris Hansen went to Bangladesh and documented conditions there, including interviews with factory operators and employees. The program also brought an employee to the U.S. and took her to a Wal Mart where she learned that the clothing she makes sells for an amount equal to one week’s pay. She grasps the exploitation behind the system and is incensed.

Wal Mart responded to Dateline by reaffirming that its contractors adhere to codes of conduct and denying that it squeezes them to keep prices low. A shopper in Wal Mart who cleans houses for a living tells the Dateline reporter that an increase of 25 cents per garment would not be acceptable to her despite learning that the young woman from Bangladesh is exploited to keep prices low. The shopper is scraping by in the U.S.

Hansen notes that this an up close view of globalization. Further, competition for lower wages with Chinese factories will increase downward pressure on Bangladesh wages.

Two women, apparently more affluent, viewing the video express their opinion that the young women workers in Bangladesh are exploited as “slave labor.” They volunteer that they would pay an additional amount for clothing to increase wages.

The piece was well-written, fair and straightforward. It’s the second global story I’ve seen on Dateline in two weeks. Both stories serve as global education for the broadcast audience. The web package offered by NBC is complete and helpful. Dateline is performing a valuable function by telling these stories.

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