A second key question is whether the owners of the factories which make garments have the resources and the will to pay for the "compliance deficit." the
cost required to bring factories and working conditions from their current state "up to code," assuming good laws and meaningful enforcement. Western
consultants estimate that only about one percent of Bangladesh garment factories have good standards. Again, there is no detailed analysis of this question
which has many dimensions. What would be cost, for example, of making the existing 4500 factories structurally sound (one labor organization has estimated
$3 billion but without details). Importantly, what are the economics of the garment makers? Do they have any profit margins or net cash flow which could
fund improvements. Can they raise prices to international buyers to get such funds without losing customers to competing countries? But, even if some
manufacturers raise prices to fund reform, many others may try to keep their prices low to keep or increase business and to free-ride on the changed
reputation of others, in the absence of effective government.
A third, related question is whether these garment factory owners are willing to allow workers to organize in unions or associations in order to have a
voice in health and safety conditions (again assuming decent labor laws and decent enforcement). Following the building collapse stories emerged at how
anti-union both the government and the owners have been. Yet worker "voice" is necessary to speak to government, owners, buyers, NGOs and the media. But,
although right and necessary, such voice--overcoming the "organizing deficit"-- has a cost too which must be understood if it is realistically going to
grow, importantly with the support of the international retailers.
A fourth key issue relating to "who pays" and "who is accountable" questions is, of course, the role of those global retailers who buy the low-cost
Bangladesh garments, the "buyer deficit." Approximately 60 percent of the clothing made there goes to United States or the European Union. Many
international brands buy from Bangladesh suppliers, including Wal-Mart, Benneton, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Children's Place, Primark and Joe Fresh.
Having been criticized sharply for poor labor practices in suppliers, most well-known global companies (or their brands) have established labor standards for the companies from whom they buy
product, either individually or through industry associations. They audit compliance with those standards themselves or through independent organizations.
But, there are several problems. The standards may depend on local law which is inadequate or does not cover key technical issues (like building codes).
When there are violations, the buyers may simply cut off the suppliers rather than helping them improve their practices, leaving workers no better off.
Standards therefore my lead to buyers with visible brands to find select suppliers who are "up to code" but leaving many, many more who impose sub-standard
conditions on workers. And sometimes, global buyers simply leave the country when they conclude that conditions are so bad, and compliance with standards
so hard to ascertain, that they don't want to take the risk of having their brand associated with product from that country. In the case of Bangladesh,
both Walt Disney and Levi-Straus, two iconic U.S. brands, have pulled out of the country altogether.