By Mckenna Eckerline
The world is globalizing at an exponential rate, and with this rapid globalization comes more international trade. Trading definitely presents economic gains, but these benefits are often costly. Countries with more lenient human rights policies are often perfect candidates for cheap labor, however prioritizing cost over safety endangers millions of workers. Poor safety regulations kill thousands of low-income laborers every year, and CEO’s need to prioritize safety over profit.
Worker safety needs to be of the utmost importance because industrial disasters are often deadly. In September, 2012, two textile factory fires in Pakistan killed two-hundred sixty-seven people and severely injured more than six-hundred workers. Those affected made up around sixty-five percent of the workforce at Ali Enterprises. Ultimately, the barred windows and locked exits characteristic of this factory known for human rights abuses caused the loss of life. With better conditions and more overall respect for workers, locking doors and barring windows would be out of the question, and the workers would have been able to escape.
Just two months later another fire in Bangladesh killed one-hundred seventeen people and injured over two-hundred employees of Tazreen Fashion. Finally, in April 2013, Bangladesh suffered the worst accidental structural failure in history when a multipurpose building containing garment factories collapsed killing 1,129 people and injuring around 2,515. The deaths and injuries could have been prevented if the companies did not demand workers come in even after warnings of structural failure the day before the collapse. Furthermore, the Bangladeshi government could have prevented the collapse by ensuring the building met safety regulations, which it did not. Despite these regulatory failures resulting in mass destruction, western companies continue to outsource.
Globalization allows producers to maximize production by outsourcing jobs. Through investing in human capital in other countries that likely have a comparative advantage over the U.S. in unskilled labor, producers can save on costs, charge lower prices to consumers and increase profits. However, there is a call for outsourcing companies to only work with countries that meet certain safety standards or to go above and beyond legal regulations to ensure workers’ safety. U.S. consumers and officials have decided that companies operating in the U.S. must exhibit safety to a certain level, so the U.S. should abide by this moral code in all of its trading endeavors.
There is so little transparency surrounding overseas factory conditions that thousands of activists from all around the world choose not to purchase goods made by certain companies or made in certain regions. If human life has equal value everywhere, then consumers should oppose unsafe business and demand action. The tariffs and quotas associated with trade barriers, however, do not allow the economy to operate at the efficient level of production, so in order to maximize profit and economic growth without endangering laborers, businesses should invest in safe practices and exceed the safety standards of the nations they outsource to.
Although millions of Americans support businesses prioritizing domestic jobs, firms now more than ever are choosing to trade in order to incur lower costs. The savings obtained from lower costs of production should not come at a cost to American morals, however. This is a situation in which tradition should override the market system. With so little information about production available to consumers, it is businesses’ responsibility to meet the American moral code. Companies can still reap the benefits of trade like lower transportation costs and the opportunity to specialize through comparative advantage without endangering human lives.