business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

As of this writing, the details surrounding the deadly building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, are not entirely clear.

We know that more than 340 workers were killed.

We know that thousands of other employees have been rioting in Dhaka, protesting what are seen as substandard working conditions.

We know that there reportedly were four garment factories operating on the top floors of the eight story building. According to a New York Times story, "labor activists have found labels inside the wreckage for clothes being made for J. C. Penney, Cato Fashions, the British retailer Primark and other clothing brands."

We know that as many as five people, described as owners of the building, have been arrested, and that investigations have begun.

ABC News reports that :"most of the victims were crushed by massive blocks of concrete and mortar falling on them when the 8-story structure came down on Wednesday morning -- a time many of the garment factories in the building were packed with workers. It was the worst tragedy to hit Bangladesh's massive garment industry, and focused attention on the poor working conditions of the employees who toil for $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands."

And here's what else I think we know - that is not the first time this has happened, and it will not be the last. Retailers will say that they didn't know their products were being manufactured there, that these programs were being outsourced, that they will redouble their efforts to make sure it does not happen again.

But what these retailers need to consider is whether, in an interconnected and global business environment, whether this is enough. They must ask themselves questions that involve ethics and morality, as well as dollars and cents. (Make no mistake. It is not hard to conceive of evens like these having an enormous impact on the bottom line, if they are found to be culpable and/or responsible.) And perhaps they must conclude that the old way of doing things, which focused on efficiency and cost, may not be the best for their corporate reputations, for their customers, and even for their souls.

The events in Dhaka should be yet another Eye-Opener. Let's see if it is.
KC's View: