Friday, April 26, 2013

So... I Guess We're Ignoring the Bangladeshis?

So... I guess we've answered the question.

The question is:  how should evangelicals respond to yet another factory disaster in Bangladesh?

And I guess the answer is:  "ignore it."

Two days after the partial collapse of a garment factory, the death toll rose above 300 in Savar, Bangladesh, amidst the rubble of what used to be an eight-story structure.  This morning, about 50 survivors were found alive in a pocket of air buried in the debris, and it was learned that two pregnant women who'd been working in the factory had successfully given birth while waiting to be rescued.

Can you imagine the horror?  The trauma?  The chaos?  Most Americans can't - so that's why our media machine has been slow to ramp-up coverage of what would otherwise be an epic tragedy - if it had happened here on our shores.

You'd think that at least America's Christian media would be covering the story - especially the feel-good stuff about two brand-new lives coming into our world while so many others left it.  But no, World magazine, which regularly features "secular" news, has nothing about it on their homepage today.  The NFL draft takes precedence, as does their continuous memorializing of Edith Schaeffer, who died in March.  The only death story on Christianity Today's homepage is country singer George Jones' passing. and the Gospel Coalition's website really never have much current event content, and today is no exception.  Ditto for Patheos and the Baptist Press.

Ironically, on the Religious News Service website, they do have a story about Bangladesh's factory disaster, but get this:  the story is about an organization of atheists.  These God-deniers are postponing some protests they'd scheduled at Bangladeshi consulates around the world over the Muslim country's arrest of four atheist bloggers who are being charged with blasphemy against Islam.

Leave it to the atheists to let Muslims mourn in peace.  Hmm... maybe that what our Christian media outlets are trying to do?

Granted, it could be said by the editors of these Christian-themed media outlets that news like a factory collapse half a world away is what CNN and network news is all about.  And for the nuts and bolts of a disaster story, that's mostly true, of course.  World and Christianity Today don't have bureaus in Bangladesh, and nobody really expects them to.

And it's yet to be determined if any of the clothing being manufactured at this factory - actually, the building apparently housed a number of independent garment makers - was destined for the United States.  News outlets often have to remind Americans about why we should care about stuff happening so far away.  But we already know that 23% of the clothing made in Bangladesh comes just to our country, making us, by far, the largest single customer of what amounts to sweatshop labor in that poor country.  Even if we've become clever at twisting such inconvenient economic realities in our favor.

"They should be grateful for the work," we Americans rationalize.  "Nobody's forcing them to jeopardize their lives in those dangerous factories."

And then there's the kicker:  "I don't want to pay any more than I have to for clothing.  If my low prices are the result of marginalized labor in countries like Bangladesh, I can't do anything about that."

I see.

We Americans are entitled to cheap clothing, but Bangladeshi workers aren't entitled to safe working environments.  Yes, I can see why Christian media outlets don't like covering these types of stories.  It's extremely difficult to see how the logic many Americans - and indeed, many religious conservatives, I suspect - use to justify our own materialism and need to economize has any basis in Biblical morality.

So, I guess we're just going to let the people in what we call the liberal media worry about the Bangladeshi's, then?  We don't need to concern ourselves with any responsibility we might hold in our clothing industry's push for ever-lower labor costs?  Easy enough, I suppose.  After all, even if we say we're willing to pay more so the folks who make our clothing don't need to slave away in dangerous factories, how could we possibly make sure the clothing industry won't keep the status-quo overseas, and just pocket the difference?

We think we can make a difference when it comes to abortion, gun control, immigration reform, and government handouts to lazy people.  I guess we've got too much on our plate to tackle labor injustice overseas.  Yeah, Bangladeshi's, the Vietnamese, the Laotians - they may be made in the image of God, but not in the image of Uncle Sam!

So we're going to let this crisis of human misery slide by us under the radar, huh?  I guess that is more economically expedient than actually doing something about it.  After all, it's all about saving our hard-earned money.

Except... I don't know about you, but something still puzzles me.  I don't know that I'm willing to risk death for subsistence wages.  So, please remind me:  why are we saying it's OK for other people?

Update:  The death toll as of Monday, May 6, is now 622
Update:  Some Western retailers use semantics to absolve themselves of liability

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