One Reaction to the Bangladesh Disaster

Whose responsibility is it?

My Executive Memo in the June issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive (The Human Cost: How High a Price do we Pay for ‘Cheap’ Clothes? elicited a response from one of our readers. Jerry Carlew Jr., of Mayo Furniture in Texarkana, Texas, sent an email to tell me how he felt.

As you might recall, I wrote this column after the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. I took several apparel companies, especially The Gap, to task for their refusal to accept any responsibility for the disaster that claimed more than 1,100 people, people who worked for about $37 a month.

Jerry wrote, in part:

“I understand your concern with the brutality of conditions there, and the apathetic attitude of those in charge. It is appalling that human beings are still treated this way but I am less enthusiastic about the prospects for change. We see time after time this sort of thing in third world countries, but are we somewhat naïve to think that real changes are coming?

“Should those in question do more? Certainly, but will they is the real question. Whether it be the factory owners or the owners of the buildings, I suspect very little will get done. And I am not surprised that the major retail giants have turned a deaf ear. Is it their problem….it would be if I was CEO with Gap, but I’m not, so they, like Wally World, will probably do nothing.

“As a customer, should they do anything? They will continue buying cheap merchandise and sell at a very high price and make tons of money. If you haven’t bought clothes lately, they are very expensive items so I don’t buy the “making marginal profit” scenario.

“I have a better solution though. Why not bring these jobs back to the U.S., streamline your distribution costs (probably a lot), [have] retail stores agree to a workable profit and drop prices to the consumer, and do the manufacturing here? A good number of manufacturing jobs have returned the last couple of years….why not garments?  (Who is being naïve now…, of course but I still contend that we can once again become the manufacturing giant we used to be. Remember, putting everybody to work solves a lot of our nation’s problems.)

“It has happened in furniture industry, so why could it not happen with the garment industry also?”

Why not, indeed? Thanks Jerry.