Capitalism and the Exploitation of Women: Wal-Mart’s Bangladesh Factory Fire as a Test Case5 December 2012
Wal-Mart currently resources one billion dollars worth of inexpensive clothing from Bangladesh each year. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when 112 workers died in a factory fire last month, cloths labeled for Wal-Mart were found in the ashes. The mega-retailer distanced itself from the disaster, saying that Tazreen Fashions was no longer authorized as a producer for the chain. They offered no explanation for how the giant company with its giant factory somehow continued to produce massive quantities for Wal-Mart undetected.
Over 70 percent of garment workers in Bangladesh are women. Their reported wages are low, usually around $50 a month. Managers make more, but such positions are usually filled by men. The 112 workers dead in the November blaze continue to go unnamed by the American media. The vast majority, I assure you, will turn out to be women.
Bangladeshi men are starting to feel the heat in the disaster. The factory, identified as “high risk” in 2011, had violated building codes from day one, being built three times larger than was initially authorized. Male government officials pushed it through. Likewise, it was male managers who failed to install proper fire exits. It was a male manager who trapped the women inside even after the fire alarms went off. Such men are facing public ire now.
Who isn’t being forced to own up to such exploitation of women? Wal-Mart executives, over 80% of whom are male.
Wal-Mart’s PR fire could get bigger before it gets smaller. In April 2011 over a dozen representative from major retailers met in Dhaka to discuss safety issues. Wal-Mart, the lead retailer among them, explicitly opted not to invest in electric and gas system upgrades in their factories. The other retailers followed suit. In the document from the meeting, Wal-Mart and the others expressed that “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments” in factories.
Is advanced global capitalism, spearheaded by bottom-line giants like Wal-Mart, going out of its way to empower women? Look inside the body bags. The charred corpses will tell you in no uncertain terms.