The recent building collapse and ongoing sweatshop fires in Bangladesh which have killed hundreds of poor garment workers are no different from the mass suicides of “Monsanto farmers” in India, oil pipeline fires killing poor children in Nigeria or iPhone factory worker deaths in China. At the heart of all these tragedies is the prehistoric, global greed of corporations that decidedly puts profit before people and takes away even the basic human rights of working men, women and children, jeopardising their lives, livelihoods and dignity.
And when their wrongdoings are exposed by grassroots activists, some rare politicians, newspapers or television channels, these corporations quickly escape from the scene of crime, only to invest in another, low-spotlight, low-risk site. Bangladesh, India and China have for long been breeding grounds for sweatshops. If there’s trouble here, the corporations will move elsewhere, as they now are to Haiti, Tajikistan or Tasmania. And in this well-connected world, it is especially easy for these corporations and their politicians in power to find such places to exploit and profit from. They don’t even pay taxes to the countries and people they’re exploiting: Bangladesh is the prime example of that tax evasion. For that matter, many of these companies do not pay taxes in their home countries either. Think GE in the US.
Today’s multinational corporations have found support not only from their brand of politicians—both in their home and outsource countries—but also from the IMF and the World Bank. IMF’s structural adjustment programme dictates to borrowing countries measures that have resulted in rampant deregulation and privatisation; minimal or zero taxes for rich individuals and corporations; destruction of pro-poor welfare; diminution or disappearance of labour unions. Drastic currency devaluation is a fifth measure IMF has managed to impose on its borrowers.
The Occupy Wall Street-type street demonstrations and protests we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere are testimonies to the fact that working men and women, who belong to the great 99 per cent, are raising their voice against such corporate-economic tyranny. In fact, we might call it an act of war—unleashed on the poor and powerless across the world.
Bangladesh sweatshop deaths or Indian farmer suicides are testimonies that just like any other more visible, violent wars, the economic wars are also killing thousands every single day and crippling many more. In case of Bangladesh and India, in particular, it’s even more tragic because these were places that were known for their riches just a few hundred years ago, before they were forcefully occupied and colonised. Now, a neoliberal economic colonisation has replaced the old-fashioned political one. The results have been the same. I hope you raise your voice against these acts of aggression. Our brothers and sisters and children are dying.
Partha Banerjee is a New Yord-based rights activist and labour educator; E-mail your columnist: banerjee2000 AT hotmail.com