In Bangladesh, corruption kills hundreds

In Bangladesh, corruption kills hundreds

Around the world, corruption hurts people. In many countries – like Bangladesh – it can even kill.

More than 600 people died and more than 1,000 were injured following the collapse of a building that housed several garment factories in Savar, near the capital city of Dhaka. While families mourn loved ones lost, the nation is asking how yet another preventable catastrophe in the workplace took such an enormous toll.

Savar’s tragedy is not the first; violations of building codes and faulty inspections have caused fatal accidents before. In November of last year, a fire swept through a textile factory outside of Dhaka and claimed the lives of more than 100 people. In 2005, 73 people were also killed in a different garment factory in Savar.

Graph of clothing exporters and CPI scores

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption.

No safety for workers

In the recent Savar tragedy, it is reported that cracks were found in the building only one day before the collapse. Industrial police officers and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association even asked the building owners to close the facility and to suspend factory operations prior to the collapse. While some businesses in the building evacuated their employees, garment factories – that produced products for brands including Mango, Primark and Wal-Mart – chose to ignore the warnings. Reports surfaced alleging that workers were forced to report to work under threat of salary deduction.

It was also found that four of the upper floors of the eight-storey building were illegally constructed.

Iftekhar Zaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh, explains:

The bottom line is that worker safety laws are hardly enforced. The key lesson from the tragedy is about the importance of the rule of law, and controlling collusive corruption in a manner that a strong message is out that corruption is indeed a punishable offence as provided by the law.”

Foreign companies should share responsibility

The companies that contract Bangladeshi suppliers must take more responsibility for the safety of the workers they employ. They need to be more proactive and involved in the safety protocols and inspections. They should make ensuring strict compliance with best practice safety standards a prerequisite for doing business.

Zaman adds:

Such companies cannot be perceived to be helpless in the face of corruption and impunity of their business partners. It is not enough for them to stop importing when violation of worker rights and safety takes place because by that they would only punish the workers (leading to) the poor women losing their jobs.”

Change is needed

The Savar tragedies are reported as accidents, but there is nothing accidental about the circumstances. The deadly building collapse and factory fires were avoidable.

The following measures would improve the working conditions of factory employees, as well as combat corruption and impunity:

Companies such as Wal-Mart are aware of the risks of doing business in Bangladesh as much as they are aware of the opportunities for quick profits due to low labour costs. The recent corporate social responsibility report from the company, for example, highlights what needs to be done in Bangladesh.

But it is not enough to recognise the problem. Companies need to be part of solution to work with government officials to ensure that the contractors they deal with provide the environment for their employees in Bangladesh to work safely – and with dignity.

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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