The ecological meaning of Bangladesh

Posted April 29th, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The ecological meaning of Bangladesh

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

As if the horror of the previous week was not enough. As if bombs in Boston and explosions in West TX were not enough to focus our attention on so many wounds and injustices in our world…

Now in Savar, Bangladesh, comes the greatest disaster in the history of the garment industry. The death toll as of this morning is 377 and still mounting. The stench of death is overpowering as it rises from the rubble of an illegally constructed factory building.

Human life completely expendable, human sacrifice to the gods of our consumer culture and the global economy.

Angry, grieving family members await word of their loved ones, so many of them young women, so many making our clothes for an average of $38 per month.

I want to write about the ecology of Savar, Bangladesh. I want to write about the ecology of the garment industry. I want to write about how this fiercely unjust, cruel global economy reminds us of how all things are interconnected – how we cannot escape our own impacts on those interconnections.

JC Penney, Walmart, Benetton, Primark – many other labels found in the wreckage of the factory. Go to your local department stores and look for the “Made in Bangladesh” labels. Or look inside your closets.

For all the work that’s been done on sweatshop factories and worker rights over the decades of economic globalization, the globalization of production and consumption, this force that has driven down wages and brought about some of the most awful working conditions conjured up by we humans, situations like this one continue and corporations continue to work around any improvements in one place to find cheap production conditions somewhere else.

That’s the nature of the beast. That’s the nature of the global economy in which we all participate.

I know. I worked on these issues for many years back when I was director of the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico. Following the civil wars in C.A, garment manufacturers moved in swiftly to take advantage of a low-wage, low-skill labor pool, and of enormous pressure from the U.S. on these governments to open their economies to international investment.

Then President Clinton brought to us the North American Free Trade Agreement, which forced millions of peasants off their lands in Mexico and drove them north to border towns where more sweatshops were built, companies eagerly awaiting their desperation for work and income to exploit for cheap wages in their factories. For many years I was on the board of the US Labor Education in the Americas Project where we focused on campaigns targeting Starbucks, Chiquita, the Gap, and more, pressuring for codes of conduct and respect for worker rights.

But the financial power of big corporations, of countries whose governments, like ours, work to implement global trade rules that favor these corporations, and the power of our consumer ways, are far mightier that those joint efforts across the globe to enhance the rights of workers to decent wages, decent working conditions, and a decent life.

The global economy runs in tandem with all our other ecological threats and is the major driver of them. It uses vast amounts of energy, exploits humans and natural resources, gives evidence of our gross neglect of the ecology of the whole, and in every way I can think of undermines our humanity.

It reminds me that part of the essence of our ecological work is to bring down this global industrial culture and replace it with something else.

But will the consumers of this world ever be willing to give up their cheap consumer items to save workers in Bangladesh, to allow the people of the impoverished nations of our world to once again build their own local economies based on their own local ecology and set of relations among themselves and the other sentient and non-sentient beings among which they coexist?

Yes, friends, it means the end of a lot of wealth generation. It means challenging the essence of the economic system in which we are all embedded. It means major disruptions in our lives as we go through a period of transition to new ways of life that are locally sustainable – for human communities, with dignity, and within the embedded wholeness of these local ecologies.

And keep in mind that the immoral non-sustainability of this global production line, this fierce unforgiving global marketplace, is also about the other things that so concern the ecologically-minded among us  – climate change, energy usage, overuse of water and other natural “resources,” deforestation, mining, and on and on – all of which are involved in the production of the things we wear, the things we use up and throw away, and even so much of our bad food and beverages.

It is our consumer ways that are driving this global economy and driving us to the brink of ecological disaster.

Bangladesh, as much as the tar sands or plastics thrown in the ocean, shows that everything is connected now. We cannot participate in the market in any way without our choices, behaviors, habits, impacting across the globe – like it or not.

In the economic reality we see clearly now the meaning of Gaia, the Earth as one living organism. The truth in evolutionary science, the biological and physiological reality of the planet, is borne out by this disaster – the interrelatedness of all things, that we live in interconnection and never apart from it, this truth that is once again emerging from the rubble and stench of that factory in Bangladesh.

Once again, I ask the question from the end of my book, Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope. Looking at the disasters coming with greater and greater frequency, the vast changes to the planet, the suffering of human beings in this voracious global marketplace, our own loss of soul as we participate in it, knowing what awaits us in the near future if we go on like this:

What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?

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