I was going to begin this blog by observing that there had ben two major tragedies in the world this week. Then I thought about that sentence again. What I meant, of course, was that there were two major news stories that caught my attention-which is not the same thing. No doubt there were many tragedies this week throughout the world. People dying prematurely, babies born with birth defects from environmental toxins, young children being sexually abuesd. The list of “small” tragedies is long and no doubt each personal story is as important to that family as the ones that make headline news. Having made that caveat, I want to focus on two stories that made the news last week.
One was a fire in a psychiatric hospital in a village outside Moscow. 38 patients died here. The other story was of the fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh where 370 people died. The second story was much talked about and written about. (It even came up in the Quaker meeting I attended this morning.) Looking at those events on Google was telling. The Bangladesh fire attracted 9,368 rested articles, mentions etc whilst the Russian fire got 1,191 similar mentions. That’s a ratio of nearly 8:1 in favour of the Bangladesh fire.
Are we saying that a dead Bangladeshi is eight times more important than a dead Russian? Or that simply being a poor Bangladeshi clothing worker makes you eight times more needy than being a Russian psychiatric patient? From the news coverage this would seem to be the case.
We are used to worrying about the cost of our clothes in England and the West. In the same way that Fair Trade coffee etc has become fashionable, so it is fashionable to worry about buying cheap tee shirts and the like. We are expected to boycott Primark and similar stores for exploiting their Third world labour so that the company can make more profit. And continue to provide jobs for around 27,000 people in the process. (One suspects that the people who worry about cheap tee shirts are those who can afford to not buy them.)
Details about the psychiatric hospital are harder to find. I could find no reference to its name, how many patients live there, how many staff are employed or any details about the place beyond its location. I heard nothing about this event discussed on “Any Questions” or “Any Answers”. Twitter was busy with it with comments like “Another reason to hate Walmart” . And “How can Primark bosses not sign the Bangladesh Fire agreement?” As I write this tweets are still being posted about this fire. Search Twitter for the Russian fire and the difference is striking. Most of the tweets are simply relaying news of the event with little moral comment-except for for one noting “This is what happens when Governments neglect funding for its disadvantaged…”
My sympathies lie with all who died in these fires, their families, their friends. Sadly one doubts this will be the last fires to happen. Equally one knows which subsequent event will stir the chattering classes to wring their hands in distress.