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Dhaka Tribune

Human life on sale

Update : 26 Apr 2013, 10:41 AM

In marketing design class, we were taught that many factors effect a reader’s decision: font, colour, shape and size. However there is one exception: SALE. It is the only word that has the same impact on people, regardless of red or blue font, direction, or size. Their reactions remain constant.

So it is with the reaction to disasters in our country. Human lives are now going at the discounted rate of BDT20,000. A great bargain, isn’t it? How does it affect us, or our leaders? I will not list the many recent accidents the industry has suffered, nor will I sympathise. Our sympathy will not bring back the sisters, mothers, wives, husbands, brothers or sons from any of the tragedies.

We will forget them and move on.

Thanks to our goldfish memory, most of us cannot even recall the name of Bishwajit, who made headlines after being slaughtered in old Dhaka merely four months ago. Oddly, in his speech yesterday, the home minister blamed pro-hartal BNP activists for shaking up the building. Have they hired the Hulk to be their goon? On a talk show, an ex-BGMEA president thanked the prime minister and MP Mr Nanok for their roles, despite that fact that they had yet taken significant action. He then surprisingly went on to thank the leader of the opposition for withdrawing the hartal.

Where is the logic? Excuse my ignorance of diplomatic protocol, but how important was it to swear-in a president on the same day that we lost 128 lives, with many still trapped in the rubble?

On Facebook, people are posting pictures of denim jeans with a blood-splatted pricetag. I have seen status updates that call our nation Bloodesh. Why blame them? If you ask many of the smartest graduates in this country to work in the garment sector, you may be shocked by the vehement refusal. If our educated are not willing to fix the industry that brings in our highest national earnings, they cannot hate it either.

Yes I know, many will say the garments industry does not pay well, they are unethical, and they are run by bloodsucking businessmen. However, if the brains of a nation cannot be steered into our most lucrative sector, then what right do we have to complain?

The list of naggers includes me too. Change does not happen in a single day. There are brave people like Nazma Akhtar who are fighting tirelessly for the rights of the workers.

The chairs of BGMEA representative should not be filled with monarchs, but professionals. A healthy work environment is often seen as an extra cost by the industrialists. However, when implemented, it actually boosts the morale and efficiency of the workers.

Many think that the only unique thing Bangladesh has is its cheap labour. We do have cheap labor, but is everyone skilled? Is everyone performing at their best? The rat race of short-term gains has blinded us to the long-term rewards of safe and healthy work conditions. The owners need to see that there is something in it for them too. This is what professionalism can bring to the table.

I know that there are second-generation businesspeople who are well-educated, have the foresight to appreciate these advantages, and can bring about much-needed changes.

On my visit to the factory of one of our biggest garments exporters, the owner explained how better salary and working conditions have helped his bottom-line. He even adjusts increments of salaries with inflation, and offers his workers profit shares. Because of these humane human resource policies, his employee turnover percentage is single-digit. When employees stay longer, they can specialise in specific areas on the floor.

This also increases their efficiency. He said this could not have come only from himself or his father. The professionals he hired showed them this path. This has made them one of the leading garments companies worldwide.

The cost of correcting our mistakes is not very high. We need professionals to correct the flaws in the system that others may miss. It will need the collective efforts of the owners, workers, professionals and aspiring graduates.

We must try to steer the best minds of our nation to the industry that brings us the most revenue.

If we start now we may not have to put souls on sale for Tk20,000.

Saif Kamal is Head of Marketing and Communications, Dhaka Tribune.  



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