Avoiding The Next Factory Collapse

James Surowiecki hopes that Bangladesh can get its act together:

[T]he real lesson of the past two decades is that if labor standards are actually to improve government has to play a role. Private power alone won’t cut it: as long as consumers and companies insist on the lowest price and endless variety, there’ll always be factories that are willing to cut corners to get the business.

It’s encouraging, then, that Bangladesh has announced that it will work with the International Labour Organization to institute and enforce minimum labor standards. There’s understandable skepticism about the government’s ability to achieve this, given widespread corruption, and there’s also concern that tougher standards will lead Western companies to pull out of Bangladesh. Yet research shows that smart regulations work, particularly when they’re backed by international pressure. A recent study of reforms in Indonesia in the nineteen-nineties demonstrated that they improved conditions without increasing unemployment. Richard [Locke, author of The Promise and Limits of Private Power,] points to the Dominican Republic, where an “incompetent and corrupt labor inspectorate” has been overhauled, working conditions have improved, and the country’s export industries have become more competitive.

Recent Dish on the Bangladesh tragedy here.