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May 4, 2013

Bangladesh factory collapse: beyond mourning and money

NORMAN — Last Thursday, I went to the weekly meeting of Norman Rotary Club with Andy Rieger, the executive editor of the Norman Transcript. He introduced me and Rotarians responded with a waving hands and lovely applause. Just moments after I sat down, the lady sitting beside me asked the distance between the collapsed building of garment factories in Savar, Dhaka and my home.

In fact, we are facing such sympathetic questions almost everywhere here in Norman, Oklahoma. The CNN news scrolled across the digital screen on Gaylord Hall at the University of Oklahoma. We have been noticing ‘Bangladesh’ here everyday. And we are answering as much as we know. Beyond that we have little to do, standing thousands of miles away, but weep silently for the tragic demise of hundreds of lives. What could we meaningfully do even if we were there?

We saw the lack of proper equipment to rescue people from the hall turned hell. It’s true that hundreds of people tried their best to help the trapped and injured. But those acts of big heart are really small in the scale of the catastrophe. So the grief of fallen lives and failed capacity lies over the nation. Reactions on social or mainstream media are saddening. One is the concern about our garment buyers based in Europe and America especially. The second target is the garment owners.

It is absolute that if the garment factory owners don’t improve the wage structure and working environment, instability in production channels and lives risked on thousands of our cheap labor force will prevail. As a result we may have to face more and bigger tragic incidents in the future. And eventually we will lose our garment market abroad, the second remittance earner sector. The thousands of youths, especially females from lower income groups or rural areas, many of whom got the “freedom of choice” due to cash in hand, who are trying to stand on their own feet and ignore some social discriminations, will lose their jobs.

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