I accepted an invitation to accompany the New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, and the head of the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) Stuart Appelbaum to visit garment factories in Bangladesh to learn about the garment industry and in particular, working conditions. The reason is straight forward. The importance of work and the dignity of workers has always been a key element of our Catholic social vision. In today’s economy, goods purchased locally in the United States are made in factories around the globe. I’ve heard it said that our economy is “glocal.”
We recall that about six months ago we mourned the tragic loss of the lives of more than 1100 workers when a garment factory building in Bangladesh collapsed. During that time there has been much activity and some progress to improve working conditions and ensure safety. However, progress is never all at once and needs to be for long-term. Recent events in Bangladesh – political and economic – make this a timely trip. The announcement of the date of elections have provoked much protest – some of it violent. Yesterday there was another huge fire in a garment factory reportedly employing some 18,000 workers, who will now be unemployed. Fortunately reports indicate there were no deaths.
There remains an ongoing different perspective between European and American companies. In addition, during the Christmas Shopping season so many of the gifts we buy and receive are clothing apparel. I am told that Bangladesh now ranks as the second producer of export apparel after China. The odds are good that many of us will either buy or receive a gift made in Bangladesh this Christmas season. I looked forward to learning more during the next few days.
I will share that with you in hopes of raising awareness about important issues related to the dignity that each person is owed as made in the image of God.