Saturday 27 April 2013

Why Crassus could do Business in Bangladesh

Would YOU buy a second-hand factory from this man?
If Crassus, the shady ‘third man’ of the late Republic along with Pompey and Julius Caesar, were alive today, he would be trying to buy the Rana Plaza factory buildings in Savar, Bangladesh. He became the richest man in Rome not by crucifying Spartacus’ rebellious slave army, which was a one-off stunt, but by speculation in collapsing real estate. 

In ancient Rome, the shoddily erected trading and apartment blocks, insulae, often fell down. Crassus would turn up and make a rock-bottom offer for an insula as it teetered, its residents screaming. He only got his 500-strong private slave fire brigade to rescue the building if the offer was accepted. He would then refurbish the insula and sell it on for many times his outlay.
Rana Plaza building, not renovated

I became disenchanted with life as a trainee businesswoman when in the early 1980s I discovered the files relating to the deaths at work of several tugboat crewmen of Merseyside. My privileged childhood in a household where ‘work’ meant doing things with typewriters had protected me from any real sense that (even discounting the armed forces) most people--builders, miners, manicurists, dry cleaners, machine operatives, removal personnel--routinely face physical danger in the workplace. 

Wakefield Cathedral, being renovated
This does not apply to the middle classes. Bishops do not often fall out of pulpits. Few bankers pay so many checks into their offshore accounts that they get Repetitive Strain Injury. Barristers and Judges only occasionally asphyxiate when their wigs slip. University teachers’ throbbing egos threaten to make them mentally, rather than physically, sick. The most serious threat faced by the chattering classes in the media is bitchy tweets from envious rivals.

A clothing retailer selling clothes made in the Rana Plaza is Primark, behind which lurks the holding company of the Weston family. Their charitable foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, makes much-lauded and very visible grants to worthy causes including the UPKEEP OF THE FABRIC OF OLD CHURCHES in Britain.

Today, 28th April, is the annual International Workers’ Memorial Day. It will commemorate what the International Labour Organization says is the staggering SIX THOUSAND humans who die EVERY DAY across the world as a result of work-derived illness or injury. 

Don’t get me wrong. I do like old churches and would like them to stay
perpendicular. But surely the one day a year formally reserved for thinking about safety in the workplace would be an appropriate moment for the Garfield Weston Foundation to consider supporting a different kind of architectural renovation, just a little less visually obvious in Britain. Perhaps it could donate some money towards the UPKEEP OF THE FABRIC OF THE FACTORIES from which the Weston family’s vast wealth derives.

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