“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.”
On 24th April, 2013, an entire eight-storeyed building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. Leaving more than 1100 workers dead, it brought the entire export-oriented garment industry in Bangladesh in focus which has an annual cumulative turnover of $28 billion as the Bangladesh government keeps the minimum wage for garment workers at as low a level as $68 per as compared to that of the $280 of Mainland China (which in itself is low)!
Documentaries galore have been made on the Bangladesh garment industry since then. Maybe some are still being made on the tragedy. Safety issues, higher minimum wages, humane working conditions and labor rights started being discussed. Even as I write this article, 1600 workers have been sacked by garment manufacturers in Bangladesh today as they demand for a rightful three-fold pay hike over a week-long shutdown period. Have the conditions improved? I do not know. Maybe it would. Maybe it would never. But here, just imagine this:
What if Rana Plaza had never happened?
Would we have been outraged by the poor working conditions of the Bangladeshi garment workers? Would have the World Community cared? The leaders from the First world developed nations? If the crisis had not occurred, business would have gone as usual. No one would have known. No one would have cared. And that would have been more terrifying.
No outlet. No concern. No one to hear.
Thus, in a macabre manner, the Rana Plaza crisis is playing a role in humanizing our society. It is bringing together concerned individuals from around the globe to write about the conditions of workers not only in Bangladesh but also in their own countries. Stricter compliance and audit rules are being enforced every day. (Matters of public policy are often akin to a game of chess. You bring in a new rule to humanize, the miscreants evolve and find a loophole to bypass that rule in time. You come up with another constraint and so it goes on. We all keep on evolving, negotiating constantly.)
But here is a bigger question: why the need of crisis?
Why do we need a crisis to give humane rights to our workers? Why do we need a crisis to teach us about humanity when we can become empathetic by paying much lower prices?
- Making ethics a part of our school curriculum
- Evaluating students on the basis of how they perform in a diverse group than individually
- Making both children and adults aware how growing inequality can actually affect their lives adversely
- Marketing minimalism as strongly as consumerism is being marketed by brands around the world
- Pointing out the right leaders who work towards making the world a better place to live in rather than just earning more wealth for themselves
These are just few examples. There are a million more cheaper ways to learn.
Crisis may produce real change. It may make the ground work easier. Make it easier to push for reforms. But we can do definitely better than that. By being proactive and not just reactive. This would only make us human.
Author: Amartya Dey, India