PROMISES BROKEN, LESSONS UNLEARNED
Barely six months have passed since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, and already it seems the world has forgotten. More than 1,100 poorly paid garment workers died last April when the eight-story sweatshop where they worked collapsed. Pulitzer Center grantee Jason Motlagh, who has been investigating the tragedy, found that compensation for victims’ families “ranges from inconsistent to nonexistent” and that retailers in America and Europe who profit from cheap Bangladeshi labor have reverted to business as usual.
“In the immediate aftermath of Rana Plaza, there were promising signs,” writes Jason in the current issue of The Nation, “Dozens of well-known European and American companies signed on to separate safety accords to finance comprehensive renovations and fire-safety training, make audit results public and uphold a ban on subcontracting. Although the pledges made by the largely American alliance are nonbinding and leave no meaningful legal recourse or space for workers who wish to organize, committed labor-rights activists initially called the agreements a ‘turning point’ for millions of Bangladeshi workers.”
It turns out that the families of the confirmed dead have received settlements of just $1,250—a “paltry sum” for a human life even by the impoverished standards of Bangladesh, Jason reports. New safety regulations exist on paper only and the uplifting promises made by U.S. and European retailers ring hollow.
“Of twenty-nine companies summoned to Geneva in September for a weekend conference aimed at attaining a compensation deal for the Rana Plaza disaster—as well as for victims of a fire last November in the Tazreen Fashions factory, which killed some 117 people—only nine came. Among those who did not attend were Walmart and Sears, both of which were later discovered to be sourcing from the Tazreen factory,” writes Jason. “Only one company that used a Rana Plaza supplier, the Irish budget-fashion chain Primark, agreed to provide aid over six months.”
THE FACE OF AID IN AFRICA
Pulitzer Center grantee Amy Maxmen says she’s got nothing against Angelina Jolie.
But Amy, who is in Mali looking at new approaches to the treatment of malaria, believes that the real face of aid in rural regions of Africa should be the local health worker—“men or women with a couple of weeks or years of training in how to deliver babies, advise mothers on nutrition and diagnose common, yet life-threatening ailments such as malaria”—not the famous movie actress or even the scientist with a cutting-edge laboratory advance, or the doctor in a lab coat.
“I thought about Angelina Jolie while talking to Miriam Cisse, a health worker in the N’tarla village in Mali,” Amy writes in her blog for Scientific American. “I don’t mean to disrespect the humanitarian actress, doctors or scientists, but when I watched Cisse straddle a motorcycle in her ankle-long dress, kick start the engine and ride off down the dirt road towards her community, I thought this should be the face of aid that America sees.”
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
“Many Caribbean countries are facing their toughest challenges since independence” says Pulitzer Center grantee and Financial Times correspondent Robin Wigglesworth. “Decades of slow growth, budget deficits and uncompetitive economies have culminated in a region-wide crisis. Many governments have already had to default on their debts, and more are teetering on the edge. Budgets are being slashed, worsening already-high unemployment rates.”
As a result, social cohesion is unraveling, violent crime is on the rise, and the region’s various drug cartels are taking advantage of the growing power vacuum.
In the first of a series of stories for the FT, Robin reports that “Barbados is battling to avoid becoming the latest Caribbean country to fall into the cool embrace of the International Monetary Fund after a failed $500m bond sale triggered political confrontation and exacerbated concerns over the nation’s solvency.”