Bangladesh

  • Playing the bad boy in Latin America is no longer the easy game it was: the FT welcomes the return of economic rationality.
  • Overfishing and pollution may be behind a rise in violent piracy and kidnapping for ransom in southeast Asia.
  • Sleeping arrangements in first- and business-class cabins are the competitive weapon of choice as airlines vie to woo the global one per cent.
  • On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza catastrophe, a Guardian interactive traces the journey (and human cost) of the shirt on your back.
  • Moscow is playing a new ‘great game’ Ukraine in which the primary tools are local assets, in the shape of Ukraine’s political and security elites.
  • The WSJ is tracking the fallout of the latest wave of sanctions in real time.
  • Nato’s eastern European members are nervous about the alliance’s ability, or even willingness, to counter Russia.

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By Toby Luckhurst

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♦ The FT’s Martin Wolf asks whether the US is a functioning democracy.
♦ Charles Pierce at Esquire is already convinced that this was to be expected from “the worst Congress in the history of the Republic”.
♦ Russia is spending $755m on bolstering its military as part of Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild the country’s status as a credible diplomatic and military force.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi’s antics now do little to shock the bond markets – an indication that the eurozone crisis has moved decisively into a less aggressive phase, argues the FT’s Ralph Atkins.
♦ India’s Hindu temples are resisting requests from the central bank to declare their gold holdings amid mistrust of authorities trying to cut a hefty import bill.
♦ A new book on the birth of Bangladesh and the White House diplomacy of the time unearths conversations between Nixon and Kissinger that reveal their hateful attitudes towards IndiansRead more

By Catherine Contiguglia
Angela Merkel’s plan is not to fire up her own supporters, but to lull the other side, says Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit.
The collapse of Rana Plaza focused attention on the grim conditions of garment workers, but it is the toxic political culture that undermines Bangladesh’s attempts to lift itself out of poverty, writes Victor Mallet.
Silvio Berlusconi’s political career could be over after a sentence was upheld temporarily barring him from holding or running for public office – speculation is bubbling that his oldest daughter Marina could be in line to relaunch his political party.
♦ A villa in a leafy neighbourhood in Cannes will be used as evidence in the criminal trial of Bo Xilai, the former Communist party chief at Chongqing.
♦ You may well have heard that a publication called the Washington Post is being sold – to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, no less. The newspaper itself examined how its history is inextricably tied to that of the Graham family.
♦ Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was surprised by a $250m charge on his credit card earlier today, the New Yorker’s Borowitz report says. He was shocked to find out he had clicked on the Washington Post by mistake.  Read more

♦ We love our multilateral organisations here at the FT, so we’ve taken a close look at how Roberto Azevêdo managed to win the WTO DG nomination – visiting a mere 47 countries along the way. Mr Azevêdo struck a pragmatic note in an in interview with the FT, saying a year-end Bali meeting would focus on the “do-able”: “It’s… about instilling confidence that we can still negotiate, that we can still deliver multilaterally.”
♦ After David Cameron welcomed Uhuru Kenyatta to London this week, Richard Dowden considers the diplomatic earthquake that could occur when Kenyatta is expected to report to the ICC. Will Britain “abandon the ICC or isolate their closest political and security ally in East and the Horn of Africa”? Will Kenyatta run the country from a Dutch prison using Skype?
♦ Israel has warned the US about an imminent Russian deal to sell ground-to-air missile systems to Syria.
♦ US military camouflage has developed from two types to 10, just one example of inefficient duplication between different government agencies.
♦ Arguably the most haunting photograph of the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh.
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♦ Ireland’s head of state says the EU must drop its “hegemonic” economic model and reform the ECB, or risk social upheaval and a loss of popular legitimacy.
♦ The Great Tax Race series turns to Ireland, looking at how Ireland has remained attached to aggressive tax policies that favour businesses even as ordinary people have struggled to get by. (If you’re trying to get your head around how all of this even works, watch this handy explainer from Matt Steinglass)
♦ Richard McGregor thinks President Obama needs to circumvent Congress if he wants to get his agenda moving.
♦ Western clothing companies are scrambling to address public concerns over working conditions in Bangladesh – the Walt Disney Company ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in the country before Rana Plaza collapsed. John Gapper today makes the argument against western companies withdrawing: “Despite everything, the industry provides better-paid jobs than the alternative – working on rural farms – and has helped to emancipate women.”
♦ Despite violence and corruption, Afghan entrepreneurs are still making opportunities for themselves.
♦ The Kremlin is putting pressure on VKontakte, a Russian Facebook clone, pushing CEO Pavel Durov to leave the country.
♦ Slate is publishing a series of excerpts from the memoirs of Mohamedou Oul Slahi who was a prisoner at Guantánamo for nearly 11 years.
♦ Mafia historian goes underground into the bunkers of the Ndrangheta, Europe’s biggest cocaine traffickers and Italy’s most powerful organised crime group.
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Another runner in the Great Tax Race: Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, hopes that recently approved cuts to corporate tax rates will help diversify its economy – following on from a tax incentive measure for the film industry designed to attract more television productions like Breaking Bad.
♦ As the Syrian state pulls back, necessity has forced rebel fighting brigades to take on the role of governing the towns and villages across rural northern Syria.
♦ Chile is embroiled in an embarrassing statistical scandal, casting a cloud over Sebastián Piñera’s final months in office. It seems analysts were right to question how he kept inflation at just 1.5 per cent despite growth of 5.6 per cent.
♦ The US seems to be headed for a manufacturing renaissance.
♦ Since the revolution, Cairo residents have turned to do-it-yourself infrastructure as they grapple with getting about from day to day. The New York Times has photographed the boom in illegal construction.
♦ The New York Times has also profiled Sohel Rana, the most hated man in Bangladesh: “He traveled by motorcycle, as untouchable as a mafia don, trailed by his own biker gang.”
♦ IBM has created the world’s smallest film by manipulating single atoms on a copper surface.
♦ Cash is still king in China, where home buyers make payments in trunks filled with cash and monthly salaries are delivered in armoured cars.
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♦ The collapse of Rana Plaza this week and the fire at Tazreen Fashions last year have raised questions about the Bangladeshi government’s ability to regulate its garment industry, and the intimate ties between this industry and the country’s political elite.
♦ President Obama is pushing to overhaul the US immigration system, giving some of the 11m unauthorised residents legal rights and the economy a much needed boost.
♦ A growing sense among Guantánamo prisoners that they will never go home, has led to a revolt: a hunger strike is now in its third month with more than half the inmates participating. Read more

Esther Bintliff

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars Bridge, London, March 1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars, London,1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

The history of mass manufacturing is stitched through with accidents and peril. The first factories, which powered the industrial revolution in 18th century Britain, brought death and injury to many workers, including children. Mill fires in the UK were so common that some industrialists bought their own steam fire-engines in an effort to bring down insurance premiums.

The factory model spread fast. By the 19th century, the word ‘sweatshop’ had begun to enter popular parlance, with Charles Kingsley referring to ‘sweaters’ – or garment workers – in his 1850 tract ‘Cheap Clothes & Nasty’ (“Men ought to know the condition of those by whose labour they live”, he warned). Meanwhile, in the US:

“The term ‘sweatshop’… was meant to describe “sweated labor,” work that a big clothing manufacturer contracts out to a smaller firm… The labor was “sweated” because of the conditions of the factories – cramped, crowded, and full of damp heat from the steam-driven pressers.” – Bill Buford, ‘Sweat is Good’, The New Yorker

How did things get better? Safety standards encoded in law, industrial design improvements, the growth of unions, and public outrage helped bring change to the factories of western economies. But all too often, the impetus for reform seemed to require the catalyst of a terrible accident.

Today, the majority of factory accidents (though not all) take place in the developing and newly industrialized world – places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and India. The death of more than 200 people this week in a factory on the outskirts of Daka is a challenge both to the Bangladeshi government, and to western retailers.

The cost of change, to some observers, seems prohibitive – but if passed on to western consumers, it might actually be tiny. Jason Motlagh and Susie Taylor report: “An analysis by WRC estimates the garment industry would have to spend some $3 billion over five years to bring Bangladesh’s roughly 4,500 factories up to Western standards. That amounts to less than 10 cents a garment.”

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Here are five of the worst factory accidents. There are many, many more. You will notice that we’ve focused on recent decades, but only because these were the best documented online. You may also notice that there are certain factors that the worst incidents have in common. The most frequent is locked doors.

1) May 25, 1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York

Firefighters at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, March 25, 1911. Photographer: Brown BrothersDeath toll: 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, mostly women.

The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter a few weeks after the fire. You can read a transcript of the proceedings of the case via Cornell University. The chief prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Charles S. Bostwick, pulled no punches.

“Others ran to the Washington place door. One of these was Margaret Schwartz, now dead. And it is for her death that these defendants are now on trial.

Gentlemen of the jury, that door was locked. Those who ran to that door cried out ‘That door is locked. My God, we are lost.’ They were lost. That locked door barred their escape.”

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