Our responsibility to fight the fire

Of the different news stories that have captured our attentions over the past several weeks, one still sticks with me more than the others: Right around Thanksgiving, about 100 textile workers in Bangladesh were incinerated in a sweatshop with locked windows and doors. While reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, their deaths were not the result of a country with a few backward laws. The deaths may not have been intentional on the part of any party, but they most certainly were no accident. It is a definite reminder of a much more sinister reality to a globalized world.

Their deaths can be immediately traced to problematic regulations and their implementation on behalf of the Bangladeshi authorities. But we have to dig deeper and follow these specters down a more important causal chain. The situation in much of the Global South is similar. A number of groups — corporations, political elites from developing countries, diplomats from the affluent world and lobbyists — influence the economic rules of the market on a global level. And what has emerged and solidified over recent decades are a set of rules that funnel final profits to those with power and exacerbate poverty. These rules have avoided basic safety regulations in treaties, meaning that development comes with deadly risk for the people these elites do not bother to notice.

Economic integration is not negative in and of itself, but the consequences of the current trend of globalization are very dangerous. These 100 or so innocent workers, members of the global poor, were just another invisible addition to the 18 million estimated people who die of disease, famine and starvation. Like at the turn of 20th century, these situations can be avoided, and these lives do not have to be horribly extinguished. It is to this silent atrocity that Yalies have perhaps the most responsibility. Not the infamous conflicts that cloud our Facebook feeds — whether in Egypt, Gaza or the EU — but the poverty that is more than avoidable. As potential movers and shakers, we must think carefully about how the power and prestige we chase in our careers at the State Department or at J.P. Morgan only exacerbate such situations all around the world.


Dec. 11

The writer is a junior in Morse College.


Learning from Bangladesh

The Nov. 24 Tazreen Fashions Factory fire in Bangladesh shines a ghastly light on our utter failure to organize a global fair trade movement. What the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire did for garment workers in the United States in 1911, the Tazreen fire should do for the now-globalized textile industry: inspire genuine reforms, minimum labor and safety standards, and oversight. It is a terrible thought that all we have accomplished in a hundred years is the exporting of misery from New York to China, Bangladesh and a host of other countries where virtually the entire U.S. garment sector now gets its wares made at shameful wages and conditions.

We need, we desperately need, a college student fair trade movement. At some point, it would be lovely if the University got involved too — if, say, leases for storefronts on Broadway were only given to outfitters who could demonstrate that all their goods were made in fair trade factories. But the movement has to start with students. And wouldn’t it be something if one day more Yale graduates got jobs inspecting and regulating garment factories worldwide than end up working for the corporations that now exploit so many millions of workers?



Dec. 7

The writer is the Karl Young professor of English.