05/05/2013 11:15 EDT | Updated 07/05/2013 05:12 EDT

We're Asking the Wrong Questions About Bangladesh

Big apparel companies are comfortable debating whether to stay in Bangladesh or not. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh took the lives of hundreds of garment workers, the airwaves have been filled with retailers and pundits wringing their hands over whether companies should be sourcing goods from the country, creating jobs for Bangladeshi workers, or exiting the country and taking the jobs with them.

But that's the wrong question.

The question isn't whether a company should be in Bangladesh or not. It's what they do when they source from Bangladesh.

"Staying in Bangladesh" shouldn't be a carte blanche for maintaining the status quo. If a company truly wants to be a "force for good" (as Joe Fresh puts it) they've got to do a lot more than just show up. They need to engage with Bangladeshi and international trade unions on a comprehensive, effective and transparent fire and building safety program so that they're not luring workers into deathtraps. They've got to demand that workers in Bangladesh have the right to organize trade unions and bargain collectively without repercussions.

And if they're serious about "lifting people up out of poverty" -- again to quote Joe Fresh -- then they need to make sure their workers are receiving a living wage. Because even after working 12 to 13 hour shifts every day, the workers sewing Joe Fresh goods are still living in abject poverty, even by Bangladeshi standards.

Companies like to talk about job creation in Bangladesh as if creating employment alone exonerates them for the miserable and even deadly conditions in those factories and the poverty wages their workers receive. It doesn't. So let's stop asking whether a company should stay in Bangladesh or leave the country. Instead let's ask whether that company is willing to take steps to create stable jobs that are safe, where workers have the right to organize, and where they receive a living wage.

That's the real question.

Bangladesh Factory Collapse (UPDATED)