Friday, May 31, 2013

Who in the World Wants to be Happy?

I have this sneaking suspicion that when Americans (en masse) think of the world (at large) there is a big disconnect. It seems to me that if there is a collective conscience, it fails to understand that we are fundamentally all the same.

People in Russia are the same as people in the Sudan who are the same as Iraqis who are the same as the dude in Minnesota. Our skin might be different and our hair and language and food may all be wildly different but there is one thing that stays exactly the same - every time, no matter what.


Everyone wants food, shelter, happiness and comfort. Whether there are 14 rings around our necks, scarves around our faces...

Whether our homes and clothes look like they are from Cape Cod or from a dessert .....

Whether our children's hair is blonde or dark....eyes of blue or deep, rich brown.....

Whether our children play on carefully tended and manicured lawns, in the streets or in rivers.....

We all want to grow old and be happy, healthy, cared for. Everyone wants to be happy.

It doesn't matter if the standard of beauty is the same, or the customs are the same....the feeling inside is the same.

Whether we are barefoot or dirty or homeless or sick....everyone wants to be happy.

But an entire building in Bangladesh collapsed and killed 1,127 people, who just wanted to earn an income to be happy, who were working to make dirt cheap garments for Westerners to wear twice and throw away because we spilled globs of mayonnaise on it, and we really didn't give it much thought.

They were compelled to work, or lose their jobs, despite the full knowledge that their building was unsafe.

From the NYTimes:
Report on Deadly Factory Collapse in Bangladesh Finds Widespread BlameBy 

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A factory building that collapsed last month outside Dhaka, killing more than 1,000 workers in the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, was constructed with substandard materials and in blatant disregard for building codes, a high-level government report issued Wednesday concluded.
The 400-page report on the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital, found widespread fault for the April 24 disaster, which killed 1,127 people. It blamed the mayor for wrongly granting construction approvals and recommended charges against the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, and the owners of the five garment factories in the building that could result in life sentences if they are convicted.
The factory owners urged workers to return to their jobs despite evidence that the building was unsafe, the report said. “They compelled them to start,” said Main Uddin Khandaker, a high-ranking official in Bangladesh’s Home Ministry, who led the investigation.
The Rana Plaza disaster has focused global attention on unsafe conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-leading exporter of clothing, trailing only China. Bangladesh has more than 5,000 garment factories, handling orders for nearly all of the world’s top brands and retailers. It has become an export powerhouse largely by delivering lower costs, in part by having the lowest wages in the world for garment workers.
Rana Plaza was a disaster waiting to happen, the government report suggested. Mr. Rana illegally constructed upper floors to house garment factories employing several thousand workers, it said. Large power generators placed on these upper floors, necessary because of regular power failures, would shake the poorly constructed building whenever they were switched on, according to the report.
On April 23, cracks appeared in the building, shaking the structure enough that many workers fled. An engineer who had been called to inspect the structure warned that it was unsafe. Yet Mr. Rana and the factory bosses discounted any concerns and ordered their workers into the building the next morning, the report concluded. A generator soon switched on, and the building buckled and collapsed.
Mr. Khandaker’s report recommended that Mr. Rana and the factory owners be charged with culpable homicide. He also suggested that Mr. Rana had bribed local officials for construction approvals.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.

That woman, right there....went to work one day in the pursuit of happiness. She went to work in order to make t-shirts for people who blow more on coffee in a day than she makes in a week. And her building collapsed and she lost her arm. Does the West care? Will we pay more for our children's play clothes so that her children can KEEP their arms?

We make decisions and we influence public and international policy every single day, with every single dollar we spend. And we tell giant conglomerates what is right and what is acceptable with our buying choices. We can help to make sure that this woman's children are happy, healthy and safe....but we will have to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that those "other people" don't want what we want.

And we have to understand that everyone DESERVES to be happy.

Even if that means we pay more for our $5 t-shirt.

Photo credits belong to Ode to the World and Wong May-E/Associated Press

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