Death Toll In Bangladesh Building Collapse Over 1,100

It’s been nearly two weeks since a building in Bangladesh housing five separate garment factories collapsed, killing an untold number of workers, and the news just keeps getting worse:

The police said Saturday that the death toll from the collapse of a garment-factory building in Bangladesh had soared past 1,100 as recovery operations continued.

Doctors said that a seamstress who was rescued Friday, 17 days after the eight-story building collapsed, was recovering in a hospital but was exhausted, panicked and dehydrated. On Saturday, rescue workers resumed digging through the rubble, and the death toll reached 1,115.

“We will not leave the operation until the last dead body and living person is found,” said Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, the head of the local military units in charge of rescue operations.

It’s still unclear what caused the collapse, but speculation has focused on poor construction standards. In addition, the event has raised some debate in the west over the question of the cost of using cheap labor to make the goods that appear on our store shelves. In the end, though, it’s really up to the Bangladeshis to deal with this problem. There’s really nothing stopping them from tightening safety conditions at factories, and perhaps this tragedy will cause them to do so. Indeed, it’s unclear that doing so would even have a significant impact on the nation’s status as a haven for garment and other manufacturing.  Nor do I think it’s correct to say, as some have suggested that Westerners bear some kind of moral culpability for accidents like this simply because we buy clothes manufactured in nations like Bangladesh. It’s not the responsibility of consumers to monitor work practices half a world away, and it’s unfair to make people feel guilty for things that they have no control over. Yes, Bangladesh should improve itself, just like the United States did in the early part of the 20th Century, but that’s their choice to make, not ours. Finally, we ought to note that, presently, we don’t even know what caused this building collapse or if it could have been prevented. So, let’s not use this tragedy to go off on a moral crusade.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Policing, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Peabody says:

    Agree with Doug. It’s okay to learn or be aware, but don’t throw away your clothes.

  2. John Peabody says:

    Agree with Doug. It’s okay to learn or be aware, but don’t throw away your clothes.

  3. John Peabody says:

    Is that you, John? (My evil twin…some people say we think alike) (Inadvertant double (now triple!) post)

  4. wr says:

    Yes, the deaths of a thousand people just shows the glory of the free market. There’s absolutely no way that the companies who had their clothes manufactured here should be held accountable in any way, even morally. Because their sole responsibility is to return a profit to their shareholders, and if the best way to do that is to hire crooked manufacturers to bribe a weak government into allowing them to create factories that are death traps, well, that’s Freedom in action.

    And if the poor Bangladeshies working for pennies a day can’t be bothered to demand the companies uphold higher labor standards, why should we bother our beautiful minds about it?

    It’s odd, though… Doug spends several sentences acquitting American consumers of any culpability in these deaths. And yet the notion that the American companies might share some of the blame — you know, the companies that hired the manufacturers and claimed to be monitoring these factories for safety and working conditions — is so foreign to him, he doesn’t even mention it as a possibility.

    Remember, kids: A thousand dead is good! Moral crusades are bad!

  5. anjin-san says:

    @ wr

    Why should Doug worry his little head about the suffering that goes on around the world to maintain lifestyles in the US? He has a nice professional lifestyle, that’s all that counts. Why should corporate executives perform due diligence about the facilities the contact with in third world countries? Peasants are expendable, there are plenty more where they come from.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Also, see how cool it is when government gets out of the way of business? We need to be more like they are!

  7. Ben Wolf says:


    We bear some responsibility for conditions there, just as we bear some responsibility for conditions in Mexico due to our demand for drugs. Not all, but some. It’s curious in that markets seem to have a corrosive effect on individual morality; we would never tolerate something like this happening before our eyes, but put it a world away and charge $5 less for its product and we shove it out of our minds. Bangladesh doesn’t just have a problem with poor building codes, many of those factories are built illegally and the government is bribed to look the other way by suppliers of U.S. firms. This is illegal under our law but we almost never enforce that.

  8. rudderpedals says:

    It is terrible. You can have morals, or you can have markets, but you can’t maximize both:

    Many people express objections against child labor, exploitation of the workforce or meat production involving cruelty against animals. At the same time, however, people ignore their own moral standards when acting as market participants, searching for the cheapest electronics, fashion or food. Thus, markets reduce moral concerns. This is the main result of an experiment conducted by economists from the Universities of Bonn and Bamberg. The results are presented in the latest issue of Science.

    h/t Mark Thoma

  9. john personna says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Yes many, many, studies show that thinking about money and economics reduce compassion in the thinker.