May 11, 2013

Factory Floor Servitude

As a kid, I was all too familiar with factory settings--my dad worked in one. 

Dad is an incredibly persistent hard worker who went to the factory every day--tuna sandwich in tow--worked hard and was the voice of reason in advancing the business--and worked his way up to manage the place.  My dad is a modern-day success story!

He worked in everything figuring out how to design products, make them, sell them, and ensure the business stayed afloat. A lot of people depended on him in the factory to keep production humming, put bread on their tables, and most importantly to be treated fairly and like human beings. 

My dad never became arrogant as he advanced himself, he always believed that we only have what the Almighty above grants to us. 

What a contrast between the way my dad managed a factory and the decrepit working conditions that led to the factory collapse two weeks ago in Bangladesh that has now left at least 1,038 dead. 

The collapse has raised ethical questions again about the horrific working conditions in factories overseas--where low wages and hazardous conditions is the rule--low wages lead to growing outsourcing and hence, a $18 billion garment industry in Bangladesh that has tripled in size between 2005 and 2010 and is expected to triple again by 2020. 

The average monthly pay in 2009--$47!

By 2010, Bangladesh had 5,000 garment factories--2nd only to China.

Now most of the factories are gone from the U.S. moving overseas to the cheapest providers, with jobs in manufacturing decreasing almost in half from nearly 20 million in the U.S. in 1979 to less than 12 million in 2010.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (9 May 2010) chronicles the ten years of stagnant wages and horrible working conditions there--verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical punishment and humiliations for not meeting quotas (like having to forcibly stand on tables for hours and undress in front of workers), rare bathroom breaks to filthy and overflowing toilets, and much more. 

When the Savar building developed cracks on April 23, one man begged his wife not to go to work the next day, but when she called in and asked for the day off, she was told she would be docked a whole months salary if she didn't show up--she went to work and the building collapsed on April 24--leaving her buried under the rubble. Eventually, when the rescuers could not free her, they chopped off her legs!

Cheap labor means cheap goods--that's a draw for us getting more branded goods for less. In a large sense, our insatiable demand fuels the cruel, servile conditions overseas. 

This is also a broken market, where people sell their labor just to provide subsistence living for their families, while big corporations increase profits, investors smile all the way to the bank, and we get our boatloads of stuff cheap, cheap, cheap. 

There is nothing wrong with making money or saving money--it's an incentive-based system, but the only measure of success is not money. 

We need global standards of ethical conduct in the labor market, and this should be part of every organization's financial reporting, disclosure, and audit requirements.

People and organizations should not just be penalized for cooking the books or insider-trading, but for how they treat their people. 

Those organizations and leaders that balance making money with treating people decently have a leg up on those that don't--not that they will necessarily do better in the marketplace (maybe they won't), but that they make their money with their integrity intact and that's something money cannot buy. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Ronn "Blue" Aldaman)


No comments: