Who carries the weight of a global supply chain? Whose lives are linked in his chains? There is a grotesque quality to the revelations of the keeper the conditions in which Bangladeshi women in the garment industry are working to ensure that Western women feel charitable and empowered. The t-shirts made in Bangladesh will eventually sell for £ 19.60, of which just over half, £ 11.60, will go to Comic Relief to help defend women's equality. The celebrities who promote them and that the t-shirts promote in their turn with the slogan "I want to be a Spice Girl" are well paid; the women who make them earn about 35 pesos an hour and should sew up to 2,000 during a working day, lasting from eight to 16 hours. In other words, a Bangladeshi seamstress should sew at least 7,000 t-shirts to buy the asking price for a copy in the West. The purchase or wearing of such is supposed to be a way to defend "the equality and power of the people".
Nobody suggests that the Westerners involved are in bad faith. They really want to improve the lives of women around the world and Comic Relief did a really impressive job. The people who buy the shirts will be horrified by this story. They would gladly pay for their empowering t-shirts to be produced under conditions that will allow the workers who made them to support themselves, while contributing to the empowerment of others. Why is it so difficult?
One of the answers lies in the vast gap between regulation and enforcement. The decent and generous drives of all the peoples of the world, not just the countries where t-shirts are purchased, translate into political aspirations, regulations and laws. But these are worthless if they are not applied, and in countries without democracy, there is no application that would go against the interests of the powerful. Even the 2013 disaster at Rana Plaza, which claimed the lives of 1,134 people during the collapse of a factory, has not changed enough.
Democracy is not an election issue. The Bangladeshi government of Sheikh Hasina has won an election with its party, the Awami League, with 96% of the vote. 600,000 soldiers and police were deployed to supervise him, but on polling day 17 people died. Few people believe that the results represent the popular feeling. But democracy requires more than credible elections. It needs a strong civil society – free speech and powerful unions. Both are hard to find in Bangladesh today. journalists and political dissidents were ruthlessly persecuted; Islamists have murdered atheist bloggers. The plant where the exploitation was exposed belongs to Shahriar Alam, Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs, who told our reporter that he did not think it was "journalistically right to add [his] name to this story. "Who can doubt his sincerity? He really does not want his name in the newspaper.
Bangladesh is not the only one to have a garment sector in which workers are exploited mercilessly. An inquiry before Christmas found a Chinese toy factory where women were paid on average 1p. to make a doll that sells for £ 34.99 in the UK. As long as these factories are controlled by interests close to authoritarian governments, the improvements can only be fragmentary and often aesthetic. In countries where the law means what the government wants, it can only provide real protection to the working poor. But we are not helpless. The generous indignation of women in rich countries must be used to help their sisters at the other end of the logistical chain, where she weighs the heaviest.