The horror of the collapsed building in Bangladesh, with now over 700 dead (and the death toll possibly rising to 1400), has brought into sharp focus the plight of workers in the Far East, who supply the goods that are on sale in the West at rock bottom prices. Primark and Matalan retail these goods in the UK.
Some years ago, I was invited to Odense Shipyard in Denmark to witness the launch (or the Scandinavians say – ‘Christening’) of a very large container carrier, the Svend Maersk. Glenys Kinnock, then MEP was the lady sponsor and in her speech she praised the technology that enabled cheap ocean transport, to the benefit as she said of workers in the Far East as their products could be delivered to market at a competitive rate.
In the conversations at the after launch luncheon, it was mentioned that the trainers (the footwear of choice in people of all ages except fogies like myself) could be produced in the Far East for pennies yet sold in the UK at £60-£70.
I accepted the hype that this was good for the workers without thinking too deeply about it, but of course this all depends on the good will of the owners to pay fair wages and provide safe working conditions. .
This tragedy brings home that in the developing world, there are few checks and balances to curb rapacious owners. Governments promise change but it proceeds at glacial pace. It seems that only if the retailers in the West who buy the products and sell them at a profit take steps to demand better working conditions and wages, will there be any possibility of change.
Thomas Fowell Buxton would have recognised this incident as not far removed from slavery and would have used his influence and authority to bring about change.
How we need more Thomas Fowell Buxtons today!