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The Dead of Bangladesh

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Supply chains exist to maximize profit for western corporations. The easiest ways to increase profit is to lower labor costs and create environmental hazards. Supply chains do this by outsourcing all the responsibility for producing goods while leaving the western companies legally not responsible for anything that happens, even as they control for cost and quality. It’s a deeply pernicious system at the heart of everything that is evil about capitalism. This leads to the Rana Plaza, where 1,138 workers died to make your clothes. But it also leads to all sorts of other, lesser known, catastrophes. It happened again last week:

Bangladesh is cracking down on chemical warehouses in an historic Dhaka district a week after a fire killed 70 people in buildings used for deodorant and plastics storage, an official said Sunday (Mar 3).

Five task forces led by military officers, police and officials have raided Old Dhaka buildings and cut off utilities to at least 50 buildings in the past three days after chemical warehouses were found in their basement and under floors.

The owners of the buildings have been ordered to relocate the flammable chemicals to safer places outside the capital as part of the initiative launched on Thursday

“We are determined there will be no flammable chemical warehouses in any Old Dhaka residential area,” Dhaka’s mayor Sayeed Khokon told AFP.

He said the drive would continue until Apr 1.

The crackdown is in response to a massive fire which broke out on Feb 21 at Chawkbazar, a 300-year-old historic Old Dhaka district, killing at least 70 people and injuring another 50.

Fire service officials said a warehouse of deodorant and granular plastic in one of the five buildings that caught fire fuelled the inferno, which took more than 12 hours to control.

The disaster recalled a June 2010 fire in the nearby neighbourhood of Nimtoli in which 123 people were killed. Again a blaze ripped through residential buildings that doubled as chemical warehouses.

Residents said chemical storage is a lucrative business in Old Dhaka, which was founded by the Mughals in 1608, where building owners allegedly bribe authorities to turn a blind eye to the stores.

On Saturday, the taskforce faced resistance from Old Dhaka traders, prompting the authorities to halt the drive for several hours. It resumed after intervention by the mayor.

Now, obviously there’s a lot the story is not telling us and the situation is complex. Bangladeshi custom does not make this sort of unsafe storage unacceptable, whatever the laws might be, leading to sporadic enforcement at best. That’s clearly a problem. And the story doesn’t say to what extent these companies are engaged in global supply chains. But they almost certainly are, as this makes up a huge part of the Bangladeshi economy. And the lower ends of the supply chains are a complete mess, made up of all sorts of small operators that do some really terrible things. Whoever may be sourcing these chemicals have intentionally created a system where they can claim to have no knowledge of what is happening in Bangladesh. That is simply unacceptable. We must create a system by which any company using those chemicals need to be held legally accountable for these deaths. There are lots of ways to acquire the necessary chemicals for producing goods. People don’t have to die. We should not allow such a system to exist. I have laid out an outline on how to move forward on global trade and supply chains, issues neither the left or liberals are not taking seriously enough.

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