To say I could see it coming would be a lie, but neither does it surprise me. Today while walking to my house I heard an explosion. It shook the neighbourhood and left me feeling very uneasy. As I continued on to find a rickshaw to take me here I saw a crowd around the welding shop. I didn't need to ask what had happened, I knew that a spark had ignited one of the many barrels of fuel littering the shop and had exploded. I discovered that two people had been inside the shop and there was a great deal of blood outside the entrance.
The background. This shop was a talking point among foreigners I have worked with at Taize. It clearly demonstrated the lack of safety precautions or foresight involved with such a dangerous profession. It was a welding shop, and I see many like it. There are large barrels of fuel sitting beside hot machinery. Noone wears eye protection and often the welding is done outside on the street, creating not only a hazard for employees but also for those of us walking by. Many time I have heard, "This would never be acceptable in...!" whichever country they were from. The pain and loss that will result from this occupational "accident" are unknown to me. Did anyone die? Will they be able to work in the future or be handicapped? Will anything change? One thing I do know is that this brought to mind an idea of poverty and riches I have not put much thought into before.
We in the rich world are constantly decrying the poverty that is caused by sweatshops. Large corporations paying very little to make a profit. Bangladesh is a country with many sweatshops, and I have had brief opportunities to peek inside some. Then I walk down the streets and through the slums, and I wonder what the fuss is about? We are projecting our desire for riches and wealth onto others and forcing them into poverty, yes that is true. But when we decry the situation of the sweatshops, what should our focus be? I am in favour of what some people would call sweatshops! I do not consider them sweatshops, I consider them factories; these are well lit, relatively safe environments where women are paid less than a dollar a day to work. This sounds terrible, and I do not disagree entirely, but what these women have is safety.
Large factories have unions, large factories have the worker base to look out for each other. Small shops, paying slightly more, have nothing. These shops are accidents waiting to happen. The concept of workplace safety is foreign in this country, but something in the sweatshops is better than nothing on the streets. Perhaps working for a shop on the street, you will make a little bit more money. You will be richer than those poor folks in the sweatshops... that is until you are nearly killed or even die in an "accident" which is by no means an accident it is an explosion waiting to happen.
I hope this invites you to think about what the poor need. Do they need money? Yes they need money for food and clothing. But what good does that extra money do them if they are dead? That is the unfortunate reality, and it doesn't happen everyday, but you never know when it will. Let us work together to develop safer, happier socities throughout the world.