Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bangladesh, corporate murder and the race to the bottom

At least 400 people were slaughtered in the collapse of a multi-story sweatshop in Bangladesh this week, and the thug who owned it is quite properly a prime candidate for lynching in the public square. The news showed him being taken out of the courtroom wearing a police helmet and bulletproof vest.

But commentaries on this horrific incident are falling short. Yes, it’s true that the rush of textile jobs to China ended because Chinese workers, despite being forbidden to organize, are now attracting higher wages. And yes, Bangladesh was the next stop on Sweatshop Highway because people there are even more desperate to get a meal and therefore dutifully sewed clothes for Walmart, Children’s Place, Dress Barn and Bennetton for $65 a month, forced to gamble every day that they would actually survive and manage to go home at night to ‘enjoy’ it.

We’re really whistling in the dark, however, if we buy the permitted wisdom on this crime, which is that poor Bangladesh has to do some ‘catching up’ to the rest of us civilized folks on things like the rule of law, construction codes and worker protections. That is one load of screaming crap. While we pontificate grandiosely about how backward those dark people are, Obama and his corporate gang are doing everything in their power to block Bangladesh and a dozen other Asian countries from EVER establishing humane workplaces for their long-suffering millions.

As Bill Black, a former regulator and professor of economics at UM-Kansas City, points out, what happened in Bangladesh is not a weakness in the system; it’s a built-in feature:

The Road to Bangladesh is criminogenic. As firms are forced by “free trade” to force lower wages on their workers if they wish to stay competitive with their competitors who manufacture goods in nations like Bangladesh and as firms in Bangladesh engage in the same competition to constrain wages, the result can be murderous. The least ethical firms that are most willing to steal from their employees and place their lives and safety at risk in the workplace gain market share can produce a “Gresham’s dynamic” in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the workplace.

A Georgetown University professor piously asserted Wednesday night on ‘The News Hour’ that Bangladesh is ruled by a crass mafia that enjoys seamless crossover links between business and the state. That is true enough, although given that the so-called developed world includes Italy, I wonder how far it is safe to throw those particular stones. But it was a telling omission that this ‘free-trade expert’ had nothing to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership being cooked up by the Washington elites under Obama that would systematically destroy any attempts by Bangladeshi workers to protect themselves.

As numerous commentators have been warning for months, the trade package now being negotiated under conditions of military secrecy (a commercial agreement, mind you, not a defense treaty) may include measures to establish supranational ‘dispute resolution’ entities that could easily trump labor and environmental laws on the grounds that a country’s legislation might restrict that unspeakably bullshit concept, ‘Free Trade’. If this sounds incredible, it should; but it could happen behind closed doors at the secret talks, then get shoved down deeply willing congressional throats.

The idea that a commercial treaty could be used to dismantle environmental, regulatory, employment and intellectual property laws by giving huge powers to an obscure bureaucracy should surprise no one paying attention, especially given the role of unelected Eurocrats in putting Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland and Spain under the banker boot. It is the ultimate expression of the democratic state’s replacement by corporate oligarchy, and it’s already been tested on the Mexicans via NAFTA with terrifying results.

Once in place, the ‘free-trade’ coup will accelerate the race to the bottom by which the most corrupt and ruthless, the corporate bosses least interested in worker safety and most ingenious in extracting the last drop of blood from them will emerge triumphant by squeezing out any remaining law-abiding institutions through the relentless laws of the capitalist marketplace.

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