Monday, September 24, 2012

A Changing Labor Landscape in the Developing World: Part One

For several years now, the bedlam of the economic and political environment in both Europe and the United States has enraptured most, if not all, of the developed world. Stock market crashes, the devaluation of the euro, and the assault against the financial industry are defining points of the past decade, and played pivotal roles in determining the global economic climate of today. And in a sense, these events are very accurate reflections of the post-industrialized state that much of the developed world now enjoys and, to some degree, takes for granted much of the time. These events would not have occurred a century ago, when the industrialization of the United States and Europe was in full swing, especially when taking into consideration the two world wars that destabilized the entire world for several decades. It is possible that these challenges – currency devaluation, banking collapses, volatile stock markets, and disillusion at the widening income gap - are the challenges we will now face going ahead in the future. And because the markets of Europe and the United States are so important to the global markets, the challenges that we will now face going ahead in the future is the only thing many people have noticed for quite some time now. However, much of the rest of the world is involved in a colossal and monumental change, something so profound that it will begin the shift from developing countries into developed, potentially altering the international pecking order decades from now: as globalization allows for greater exports from the developing countries, and in turn their economies grow and their production increases, workers are beginning to demand organization. The wars that were waged between worker and boss in the United States over a century ago are now beginning to be waged in less developed countries all over the world. Sure, the economy of the United States may affect the world and is important to keep an eye on, but if the developed world does not become more aware of what else is going on in the world, we may turn around a decade from now and realize we have missed a revolution that has forever changed our position in the industrialized world created centuries ago.

Pakistan’s Very Own Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

On September 12, less than two weeks ago, a fire started in a clothing factory in Karachi that resulted in almost 300 workers being killed. Many of the exits were locked, or potential exits blocked by unmovable machinery and other objects. Those who were desperate enough leapt from upper-floor windows, some surviving with bad injuries and others being killed by the fall. The rest were trapped inside to suffer unimaginably horrific demises. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took place in 1911 and was considered the worst worker-related disaster in history, now pales in comparison, as nearly twice as many were killed in this month’s blaze in Pakistan. In a country that has for years mass-produced goods which are exported and consumed in the developing world, the fire is seen as a grave embarrassment and a national tragedy.

This type of event is frightening in itself; what is even more frightening, however, is that just a few weeks before the fire erupted, the factory was deemed safe for work and passed all inspections by an industry-financed private factory-monitoring group. The incompetence present in this situation is alarming; either these monitors are terrible at their jobs, or they simply do not value the lives of the lower-class workers these factories employ. Whichever the case, this is a larger issue that must be addressed. The lessons the Triangle disaster taught the United States in 1911 were hard to digest, but paramount in our evolution as an industrial power. Setting aside the day-to-day working conditions these laborers face at their jobs, the bare minimum a company should offer to its employees is the security that they can to go work every day without the risk of being trapped and burned alive in their workplace.

This type of incompetence will certainly not be tolerated forever. As industrialization evolves, Pakistani’s will demand more worker’s rights and safer work environments. As horrible as this fire was, Pakistan needs to see it as a lesson learned the hard way, and begin to get ahead of the curve on these issues. Because if for some reason this ever happens again in Pakistan, there will be significantly more outrage from the lower class, the result of which could be devastating to the country as riots, strikes and other unrest could break out. As for other developing countries around the world: take note. The loss of lives of this magnitude is not something to be taken lightly, and until factory infrastructure is improved, emergency procedures established and continuously rehearsed, and better measures put in place to safeguard against accidents, millions of workers around the world are in danger.

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