Activists combing through the rubble in Savar, outside the capital, Dhaka, have already discovered labels and documents linking the factories to major European and American brands, like the Children’s Place, Benetton, Cato Fashions and Mango.Just as Walmart initially denied having contracted with the Tazreen factory in which a fire killed more than 100 workers in November, Benetton is denying any association with the collapsed Rana Plaza. That's the thing about networks of subcontractors: they give you plausible deniability. There's also a question of how companies that had subcontractors in Rana Plaza will respond: After the Tazreen fire, some companies paid compensation for the victims and their families. But not Walmart or Sears. Walmart also continues to refuse to join a plan to fund fire safety and other upgrades in the Bangladeshi factories that manufacture its goods.
Bangladeshi workers have been protesting dangerous conditions, but rather than making real safety improvements, their government has put down the protests. At least one labor organizer was murdered in the country last year. American companies are benefiting from these conditions, squeezing the factory owners who manufacture their goods for more work at less pay, then insisting that they are not responsible for the inevitable tragic outcomes. It's time for them to accept responsibility and make serious efforts for safety rather than making changes that are more for show than anything.