Bangladesh police today announced that they will press murder charges against Sohel Rana, the owner of the 9-story factory building that collapsed and killed 1,135 garment workers last April. Infuriatingly, the accident — which was the worst in the nation's history — was highly-preventable: although workers warned their employers that there were major cracks in the building's walls several days before the collapse, they were ignored and forced to continue laboring in wildly unsafe conditions.
Lead investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar told AFP that Rana is one of about 40 people who will be charged in connection with the disaster: "We are planning to press murder charges against Sohel Rana and some other accused," he said — adding that, if convicted, Rana could face the death penalty. Also among the accused are Rana's father, who is a co-owner of the building, and five bosses of other garment factories operating within the complex.
Kar stated that police investigators have questioned 900 - 1,000 people and found "irrefutable evidences" against the "greedy and irresponsible" owners. They hope to press charges within the next month. However, while it's good to see these factory owners being held responsible for their unmitigated greed and corruption, the issue of unsafe working conditions extends much further than them. According to PBS, 12 hours of overtime, in addition to a 48-hour workweek, are routine for Bangladeshi garment workers — but, obviously, this demand doesn't just spontaneously spring up out of the ether. American garment producers (and, of course, consumers) have a deeply unrealistic, unhealthy expectation of low-priced goods sold at massive profits. Our shopping habits are what cause the harsh and dangerous working conditions in garment factories overseas.
"The buyer says if you can't give it [to us] for our price, we'll go somewhere else," Shabbir Mahmood, who owns two factories, told PBS. Exactly. If factory owners in Bangladesh start paying their employees more than their current unlivable wages, what's to stop big U.S. companies from looking elsewhere — like India or Cambodia — for exploitatively cheap goods? Simply put, the consumer has to be willing to absorb the cost of improved factory conditions. It's really not a lot; frankly, it's shameful that reform is taking so long. (Here's a list of the companies that have so far signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord, so you know which places are at least nominally committed to improving and which places to boycott entirely).
Image via AP.