As American labor demonstrates for a minimum-wage boost to $15 an hour, workers in the world’s poorest nations struggle on a dollar or two a day, often for the benefit of U.S. consumers.
The world was shocked in April when 1,100 garment workers died in a Bangladesh factory collapse. But most of the time, the strife goes unnoticed here, as happened during the Thanksgiving holiday when fire, perhaps set by workers angry about paltry minimum wages, destroyed a 10-story factory in the Bangladesh city of Gazipur. It was among the largest factories in the country, and supplied many major Western retailers.
Earlier in November, Bangladeshi workers shut down 200 garment factories for four days in a protest over wages. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment manufacturer after China, with exports worth $20 billion annually mainly to the United States and Europe.
Several major brands, no doubt bending to the consumer queasiness, have banded together in the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to push for improvements. That is to be lauded.
A few high-end garment manufacturers located in the United States serve a niche. A New York Times poll taken early this year said 46percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay from $5 to $20 more for a garment made in the United States.
But for the most part, the industry remains overseas. Garment makers have said customers show little inclination to pay more for clothes.
Consumers have the ultimate power. We can choose to read labels, consider the source, and maybe pay a few more dollars for our clothing.