American conservatives and industrialists carp endlessly about "onerous" government safety inspections, claiming they impose a burden on U.S. businesses.
Well, the tragedy in Savar, Bangladesh -- where nearly 400 workers perished in the collapse of a shoddy eight-story building that housed several garment sweatshops -- shows what can happen when government policing of industry isn't effective.
News reports said cracks appeared in the commercial structure, and police warned owners to evacuate the place -- but garment manufacturers ignored the alarm. One reportedly vowed that the building would stand safely for a century. Now the Asian nation is in shock and horror.
"This kind of tragedy simply would not happen in the United States because of the regulations and regulatory agencies that we have, specifically building codes and building inspectors who keep a check on buildings under construction," the Daily Courier of Prescott, Ariz., commented. "We believe that in this country, if engineers found cracks in a building and issued an order to get people out, they would, indeed, be evacuated."
Next time you hear conservatives gripe about annoying inspections of industrial facilities and excessive safety codes, remember what can happen without them.
Meanwhile, a second lesson also can be drawn from the Bangladesh nightmare: Americans who want bargain-priced clothing should understand the terrible human price of cheap goods.
Blue-collar Bangladeshis earn a mere $38 a month slaving in sweatshops to make low-cost garments sold by fashionable U.S. brands. The Kansas City Star commented:
"Just five months earlier, a fire in a garment factory killed more than 100 people in that nation.... Owners of many overseas garment factories are more interested in squeezing extra money out of their operations and less inclined to take worker protection seriously."
Decade after decade, competition from such cheap foreign manufacturers slowly exterminated the U.S. garment industry. The desire of Americans for bargain clothing, and the desire of big merchants for profits, led to closure of U.S. factories, shifting the commerce to Third World places where workers earn $38 a month.
Now the grim cost of such cutthroat economics is visible to everyone.