THE BANGLADESH TRAGEDY: What Have We Learned?
By Partha Banerjee, Brooklyn, New York
(Author works as a labor educator and human rights activist in New York. He's a first-generation immigrant from Bengal, India.)
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The recent building collapse and ongoing sweatshop fires in Bangladesh killing hundreds of poor garment workers are no different from the mass suicides of “Monsanto farmers” in India, oil pipeline fires killing poor children in Nigeria or i-Phone factory worker deaths in China. At the heart of all these tragedies is the pre-historic, global greed of corporations that decidedly puts profit before people, and flays even the basic human rights of working men, women and children, jeopardizing their lives, livelihoods and dignity.
And when their wrongdoings are exposed by grassroots activists, or a few, rare politicians or media organizations, these corporations quickly escape their crime scene, only to invest in another, low-spotlight, low-risk site. If it’s not Bangladesh, India or China, it’s now Haiti, Tajikistan or Tasmania. In this globally-connected world especially for these corporations and their politicians in power, there is no lack of such places to exploit and profit from. And they don’t even pay taxes to the countries and people they’re exploiting: Bangladesh is the prime example of that tax evasion. For that matter, many of these companies do not pay taxes in their home countries either. Think GE in the U.S.
Today’s multinational corporations and their functioning style have found strong support not only from their brand of politicians – both in their home and outsource countries – but also from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program dictates on the borrowing countries among other policies (1) rampant deregulation and privatization, (2) minimal or zero taxes for rich individuals and corporations, (3) destruction of pro-poor welfare and benefits such as health care, social security, pension funds or unemployment benefits, and (4) doing away with labor unions. Drastic devaluation of the currency is a fifth step. India and Bangladesh both have been massively suffering from their currency devaluation and inflation.
The major anti-1-percent, Occupy Wall Street-type street demonstrations and protests we’ve seen in the U.S., Greece, Spain, Italy, etc. are testimonies that the ordinary, working men and women that belong to the 99 percent are raising their voices against such a global corporate, economic tyranny. In fact, we might call it an act of war – unleashed on the poor and powerless across the world.
Bangladesh sweatshop deaths or Indian farmer suicides are testimonies that just like any other more visible, violent wars, the economic wars are also killing thousands every single day, and crippling many more. In case of Bangladesh and India, in particular, it’s even more tragic because these were places that were known for their riches just a couple of hundred years ago, before they were forcefully occupies and colonized. Now, a neoliberal economic colonization has replaced the old-fashioned political one. The results have, however, been the same: death, destruction, disparity and deprivation.