The notion that the Rana Plaza factory collapse came out of the blue and took everyone by surprise is sheer fiction. The companies who sell these clothes have known for a long time that there are serious problems with the working conditions in the factories they use. But talk about addressing those issues is about as cheap as the clothing they sell.
Last weekend, renewed demonstrations calling for better pay and working conditions broke out and are continuing. Because the garment industry makes up the core of the Bangladeshi economy, its leaders and business class cannot afford to ignore the internal calls for change. In fact, whether they listen depends on the demand for clothes made in Bangladesh being sustained. A boycott would work against this outcome.
People take clothing for granted but producing a simple garment is incredibly complex. Consider what goes into a simple cotton shirt. Cheap clothing is cheap partially because it consists of low-grade material. Bangladeshi garment workers earn 18 cents an hour for work in substandard facilities, working for Western garment companies with eyes trained on profits. What can we do?