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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.

In each case, corporate public-relations spin is in overdrive, intent on cleaning up a tarnished image. Yet, I cannot help but think of all their competitors who, following the same practices, continue to do so in the shadows of obscurity. They must feel like they’ve dodged the bullet of damning public opinion. The Globe should expose them all.

Brian Revel, Vancouver

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In Canada, we are averse to hearing the “C” word. For us, it is a diagnosis of cancer. For many people in developing countries, the “C” word is corruption, which affects their everyday life in so many ways. What would happen if you added the “C” word to the analysis of what makes Bangladesh-made clothing so cheap?

Sheila Batchelor, Dundas, Ont.

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Corporations strive to maximize returns for executives and shareholders. One result of this is the lack of overseas oversight of everything – depending on the company involved – from the quality of goods sold to the consumer, to working conditions.

We, the consumers, like cheap clothes, hence we buy new rather than repair because we have neither the expertise nor the time. In many cases, we must buy low-price clothes because our jobs have gone overseas.

Even more expensive goods, such as appliances and electronics, do not last. I am increasingly frustrated at shopping in Big Box stores that carry predominantly CFCs – Cheap Foreign Crap. We must find a solution to this issue before society flows even further down the tubes.

Ted Parkinson, Toronto

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Do Loblaw and any other companies involved in compensating the families in Bangladesh have foolproof plans to ensure the money will go to the right people?

We should keep to mind the tragic loss of lives in Bhopal, India. Corruption and misappropriation of funds has syphoned off most of the money belatedly paid after the Union Carbide leak.

Esmail Jiwaji, Edmonton

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OTHER LETTERS

The really real ‘real economy’

In your editorial A Governor From The Real Economy (May 3), you suggest that newly named Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz “can be expected to bring a particular knowledge and expertise of the ‘real economy.’ ” Would you please tell us for what economy the senior members of the Bank of Canada have knowledge and expertise, if not the “real economy”?

Willard Wright, Welland, Ont.

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Welcome, Governor Poloz

Stephen Poloz’s appointment as governor of the Bank of Canada is welcome. Mark Carney showed he had little understanding of Canadian business, criticizing companies for building up large “dead money” cushions. Small and medium-sized businesses do this because they just cannot trust the banks to be there for them when times get tough. Building up cash cushions was prudent management in the recession.

Mr. Carney loved to criticize Canadians for building up debt, yet his low interest rates caused this.

Tony Woodruff, Burnaby, B.C.

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Doing aid

Re A Smarter Way For Canada To Do Aid (May 2): Remittances and trade are very important for world development, but they are not magic bullets, and they do not replace aid as a means of reducing poverty. Unless we have completely lost the Canadian humanitarian values we treasure, we should champion the extremely effective aid programs like the polio eradication program and our ongoing immunization program. They are excellent examples that save lives or educate children until trade can make a significant difference.

Randy Rudolph, Calgary

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Just wondering

Carley Fortune tells us that she spent an hour and a half setting the table for seven dinner guests because she had to use a measuring tape to calibrate, among other things, the one-inch distance the cutlery should be from the edge of the table (What I Learned From Charles the Butler - Arts & Life, May 2). Then she served a main course of …stuffed lettuce leaves. What I need to know is: Who the heck uses cutlery to eat stuffed lettuce leaves?

Paula McPherson, St. Catharines, Ont.

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ON TOPIC A (BITTER) APPLE FOR TEACHER

It was a brave Elizabeth Renzetti who stuck her hand up in class to defend teachers last weekend. This, after all, has been the year of our educational discontent. From job action in Ontario, tense labour negotiations in Alberta and questions about whether education is preparing students for jobs we have yet to invent, everyone has an opinion on teachers.

And then one of these summers-off types – because in a country that’s grey for most of the year, free summers are the real class divide – has the gumption to go and run for Prime Minister. The Tory attack ads were quick to mock Justin Trudeau’s qualifications as a camp counsellor and “drama teacher.” Trudeau was just as quick to produce his own ad: He was no radical exposing school children to Tony Kushner. He was a math teacher. He can write equations!

Renzetti reminded angry Ontario parents, who had watched their offspring suffer in the dispute between unions and the province, how they used to feel. She defended the profession’s ability to not only rescue small children and hormonal teenagers from their parents’ clutches, but to return them as human beings who can do math.

Almost 350 people weighed in on whether Trudeau’s teacher past is an asset. In spite of the frustration of many with teacher unions, readers also said they recognize that being given six hours a day in which to redress the impact of how students spend the other 10, is no easy task. Maybe it’s true, as one said, that “the only people who can really legitimately criticize teachers ... are those who home school.” Yet much of classroom management goes beyond letters and numbers. Parents care about extracurriculars because some don’t have the time or money to offer those experiences and because they can fill the place of a community that not every kid has outside of school.

Readers, on the other hand, questioned whether Trudeau perched himself on the corner of that desk for long enough to call himself a teacher: “... he chose to leave teaching after three years. That doesn’t sound like commitment. So it was the phoniness of the add which offended me.”

Ironically, those who’ve turned grey writing equations are most resented (for being “over-compensated on our dime”). Young teachers who spend years working as the sub have our empathy. Do we like them more because they are us, living in a world of work today, gone tomorrow, without a guaranteed pension at the end? Envy is a powerful emotion. Renzetti asked readers whether they'd be willing to pay for the lifestyle benefits of teaching by becoming the targets of all those spitballs.

Simona Chiose is the education editor at The Globe and Mail

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