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The death toll in the collapsed-building disaster in Bangladesh has reached more than 500. (REUTERS)
The death toll in the collapsed-building disaster in Bangladesh has reached more than 500. (REUTERS)

The conversation: May 4 letters and other talking points of the week Add to ...

Where does corporate social responsibility begin and end?As Bangladeshi families mourn hundreds of garment workers killed in a building collapse, readers, print and digital, cast a wide net of blame: companies, consumers, corruption. What is a life worth?

Jobs in the garment industry are much better than going hungry, or subsistence farming – or reliance on foreign aid, for that matter. Many countries have followed the path Bangladesh is on, with rising living standards over time.

Conditions there aren’t perfect, and can be improved. They won’t improve without economic activity and pressure from outside the country. What Loblaw has said they will do to compensate the victims is a classy move and should be applauded (Loblaw Calls On Industry To End ‘Unacceptable Risk’ In Bangladesh – Report on Business, May 3).

Sad to say it, but the reality is that withdrawing business from Bangladesh will hurt a great many more people than were affected by the building collapse, and benefit almost no one.

Gary Vernon, Oakville, Ont.

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Yes, the local government is to blame, as is the manufacturer, as is the company that is purchasing, as is the consumer who ultimately buys the goods. All share some portion of the blame.

In the race to the bottom, we all ultimately lose. This is the 21st-century version of slavery, where very few care about anything other than the lowest cost.

Edward Brooks, Mississauga

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The responsibility for this and similar tragedies worldwide falls squarely on boards of directors. The consumer has virtually no control over these issues, nor is the average stockholder privy to decisions that take such terrible risks with human lives.

Roy Fuchs, Burnaby, B.C.

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How much is a life worth? Nice gesture on the surface until the next time. “We didn’t know” doesn’t quite cut it.

Norman F. Albert, Saint John

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We need some sort of a consumer watchdog that rates retailers here based on the working conditions in the offshore sweatshops. I don’t mind paying a few dollars more if I know the goods are produced by factories that meet minimum standards.

Vince Fiorito, Burlington, Ont.

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Shouldn’t the local government be responsible for building safety standards? If workers are dying by the hundreds, why don’t we hear more about building codes?

Mike Scheid, Oakville, Ont.

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Has everyone forgotten about the collapse of the shopping mall in Elliot Lake, Ont.? We have no fingers to point at Bangladesh.

Maryanne Palmer, Charlottetown

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Blaming companies that have outsourced their manufacturing to Bangladesh for the regulatory inadequacies of a sovereign government is a strange mixture of paternalism and quasi-colonialism. Boycotting their products will adversely affect the Bangladeshi workers who make them. It is far better to encourage the companies that don’t already do so to expand their procurement audits to include building safety, and to make a successful audit a condition of doing business. Then everybody wins.

Adam Plackett, Toronto

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The answer to the tragedy in Bangladesh is to bring back manufacturing to Canada and the U.S. and to pay more for our products.

This would reduce unemployment and help prevent what amounts to the murder of innocent workers abroad.

Dorothy Higgins, Mississauga

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Bangladeshi workers will continue to be devalued and to work in horrendously unsafe conditions until such time as public policy shifts and they obtain the legislative right, and encouragement, to organize and to legally assert their legitimate claims to both fair wages and safe working conditions. To do this, they need the right to form free trade unions in order to assert their collective goals. Canada has a role to play in insisting that the labour rights we codify are present in countries with which we trade.

Paul Moist, national president, Canadian Union of Public Employees

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This week, it’s Loblaws’s Joe Fresh over the Bangladeshi building collapse. Last month, it was the Royal Bank and foreign replacement workers.

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