There is a greatness amongst us, and this time that creature that had kept itself hidden behind copious uneasiness has finally come out. The overwhelming response to the recent episodes in Bangladesh is proof. Of course this greatness has been forced to come out to battle against a greater lingering “evil” that had kept itself hidden behind our shadows in plain sight. Dare we say greatness will prevail?
That depends on what we will take away as learning from the Rana Plaza disaster. There are two very polarised opinions regarding the incident that I keep seeing floating around, myself having been engaged in some of the debates. One “side” blames the greed and negligence of capitalistic mindsets to be the cause of this debacle while the other argues for the importance of the RMG sector for our country, that the entire industry is not to be blamed for the stupidity of a few, while demanding the ban of a certain cartoon circulating in social media that depicts a blue jeans with a price tag in blood.
These two polarised opinions are merely two sides of a coin representing the age-old capitalistic debate, that of between inequality and unemployment. Do we cut the hand of the capitalistic sector in our country and thereby bring about more equality and are thus more responsible towards human lives? Or do we fuel the capitalistic economy that boosts our GDP and provides more employment for people who else would be unemployed?
First of all, this polarised state of mind is very limiting and none of the extremes are solutions. While I refuse to accept simply an increase in GDP as a behaved indicator for development, most sensible people agree on the important role of the RMG sector for our country, especially in creating employment, however cheap the labour maybe. At the same time, there is no denying that what has happened is due to cracks in both the RMG industry and the building construction sector’s standards and enforcement.
As one of my friends Afia Tasneem rightly commented, “How about leading Bangladesh towards better safety standards, better regulations and enforcement of those regulations so that bad mangoes can’t get into their crowd and ruin their image in the future?” The answer to achieving that lies in good, organised and effective institutions, especially enforcement institutions, which our country lacks. Simply reviewing safety standards will not help. That has been tried and has failed before. We are good at making laws but we not at enforcing them.
One of my favorite quotes regarding this incident has been put forward by Asif Saleh, “Sohel Rana is a symptom, not the disease.” And if we are to rid our culture of the disease, well-functioning and respectable enforcement institutions are required. Overseeing proper construction protocols, working conditions in factories, ensuring proper corporate conscience is vital. And the respective enforcing authority has to be credible and respectable enough to ensure that.
It is worth acknowledging that this is not a task that will be done in a year or two but will require several, well beyond the scope of any media hype. However if we walk away (again) from the calamity without proper holistic restructuring of our existing system (that includes the factory owners, workers, and construction companies), we might as well accept the recurrence of such incidents.
Of course if everyone’s moral compass was right, this wouldn’t be required. But alas, it is not and this will be the case in the coming decade. Morality in some companies has become an image, not a state of mind. Apt regulation and enforcement is required to amend exactly that. Finally, I hope this trend of polarisation of opinions is acknowledged to be extremes and that instead, we can work together to ensure saving lives by prevention.
Unity is key. Greatness, will prevail.
This article was published in Dhaka Tribune on the 30th of April, 2013.