Plenty of finger-pointing, but little compensation in Bangladesh factory tragedies

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    Bangladeshi volunteers and rescue workers are pictured at the scene after an eight-story building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 25, 2013.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    Bangladeshi volunteers and rescue workers climb the rubble to reach survivors.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    Garment workers help evacuate a survivor using lengths of textile as a slide.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    Bangladeshi Army personnel assist in rescue operations.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    Firefighters use jackhammers to cut through concrete during rescue operations.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    Firefighters rescue a garment worker (C) found alive in the collapse.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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    The body of a victim is seen amid the rubble. The death toll in the industrial disaster reached 200 people after rescue workers pulled out scores more corpses from the rubble of a collapsed garment factory building.

    - MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

A "blame game," is how Laura Gutierrez, a Fulbright fellow researching Bangladesh's garment industry, describes the process of trying to assign responsibility for factory disasters.

Gutierrez, who spoke to Marketplace from the site of a massive building collapse in Dhaka that has killed at least 194 people, said finger-pointing is rife following such tragedies. 

Some items of clothing found inside the collapsed building, which housed a number of factories, reportedly bear the labels of American and European companies. 

"Assuming that American and European or other western brands were present here in the factory, it is their responsibility to pay compensation," Gutierrez said.  

However, compensation is often voluntary rather than mandatory, as companies, governments and factory owners point fingers over who bears ultimate responsibility.

After a fire tore through the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh late last year, killing at least 112, Walmart and Sears declined to compensate victims' families. Each company said it was unaware its goods were being made in Tazreen. Walmart donated $1.6 million to launch the Environmental Health and Safety Academy in Bangladesh. 

Burt Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, says it is worth keeping an eye on whether the fire has an impact on Walmart's bottom line. He predicts a slight drop in sales of the company's clothing. 

"Consumers have a conscience and they support the stores much less where there have been tragic factory disasters and deaths and massive amounts of injuries," Flickinger said. 

About the author

Noel King is a reporter for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk.
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I heard this piece and was perplexed; it seems to ignore all of the culpable parties in order to insinuate that American and Eurpean brands are responsible. Does Bangladesh not have sufficient building and construction codes, business licensing and safety regulations to protect it's workers? Is that the fault of their customers? Marketplace would do so much better to help me understand how these companies were allowed to operate in such dangerous conditions as context to the moral issues consumers face in such a tragedy.

Bangladesh certainly does NOT have sufficient building codes, etc! That's one reason labor is so cheap--and a big reason big companies like Walmart (which itself is accused of not treating its employees fairly even in the usa) make big profits by outsourcing their labor--and sidestepping their grave culpability. I agree heartily: we all need to be helped to gain a broader context and wider outlook for these horrible--and unnecessary--tragedies. Thanks to Marketplace for its part in continuing the conversation.

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