In economic circles, the term neoliberalism is now looked down upon as the distant third-cousin everyone is aware of but no one really wants to acknowledge. Neoliberalism advocates for a radical free market with an added emphasis on private firms that place profit above all. At its nascent stage it started out as an idea that would empower businesses and curb the power of the state (something that gained notoriety during the systematic repression of the Soviet Era).
Fast forward to the present day and the disastrous consequences of neoliberalism are evident. The businesses have attained hegemonic properties and are fast becoming the states they broke away from. Take India as an example, where Narendra Modi looks set to assume the throne in a wave of unprecedented nationalist fervour and while most people point towards the RSS as the BJP's greatest ally, behind the scenes the numerous Indian billion dollar corporations are rubbing their hands with glee at Modi's impending arrival. They ran rampant in Gujarat and will now have the entire country to themselves. But why go all the way to India when the biggest and most glaring example of the havoc of neoliberalism is right here in our backyard? It's been a year that Rana Plaza collapsed and brought the death of over 1100 workers and all that's left is a smattering of protests, photography exhibitions and campaigns designed to draw in elitists in a way that leaves no room left for real change.
Yes, there have been reforms. Some of them have been very commendable indeed. But the simple fact that it took a thousand dead bodies to reach this state is a travesty in itself. Which begs the question, is there an accepted annual death rate which falls within the boundaries of something that is agreeable? Such is the nature of the capitalist countries that it was scarcely months after the disaster that there was a sudden spike in the number of textile manufacturing companies in India and several parts of Africa. The disaster was not a case of international mourning or a way to finally raise a voice against the forever oppressed working class. It was treated just the same as every other misfortune is treated in this day and age -- as an opportunity. An opportunity to suddenly pounce and capitalise on Bangladesh's shortcomings. In a hollow show of support the US suspended GSP privileges for Bangladesh, safe in the knowledge that the textile market never fell into the bracket of products that benefit from this policy. It was a warning that the rest of the world is watching and unless we clean up our act, the EU would follow suit.
But clean up our act how? Exporters have offered next to no support financially to implement the safety regulations, thus putting a strain on the industry owners. For now, the tune remains the same. Buyers will keep coming back simply because of the fact that labour is so cheap here, safe in the knowledge that a 5000 Tk salary is enough to keep them fixated on the sewing machines, in constant fear of pay being docked if they don't give in to the owners' wishes (which included forcing them to enter the shaky Rana Plaza).
In closing I would like to make public my intentions of someday owning a garments factory, making sure international buyers choose no one else by providing them with the cheapest of labour and by generally treating the labour as chattel in a bid to earn millions while a Walmart earns trillions. The trinkets that'll be left can be distributed equally amongst the families of the workers who will invariably die in several unfortunate 'accidents' due to terrible working conditions. Who's with me?