The Road to Disaster in Bangladesh Paved by 'Free Food' Donations and Land Grabbing Corporations

The sad aftermath of another deadly dsiaster in a condemned building in Bangladesh containing clothing factories 

On 24 April 2013, an eight-story building collapsed in Savar, a sub-district of Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Bangladeshi news media reported that inspectors had discovered cracks in the building the day before and had requested evacuation and closure. The shops and a bank on the lower floors immediately closed, but garment workers were told to return to work by their supervisors who declared the building to be safe. Some 2,000 people were in the Rana Plaza building when it collapsed suddenly on Wednesday morning.

This is just the latest in the sad series of such disasters in Bangladesh which has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers which benefit from its widespread low-cost labour which averages less than $1 per day. A company called New Wave, with two factories in the building, supplies firms from around Europe, the US and Canada, including the popular Loblaws owned Joe Fresh line.

Bangladesh is far from the only country where underpaid workers are subjected to unsafe and inhumane working conditions. It happens all across Asia and Africa everyday. Why, why do all these workers end up packed into urban in ghettos? Where do they come from? What forces them to work as modern day wage slaves?

The answers aren't what we in the west want to hear. The road from small bucolic peasant farms, that successfully supported countless generations of their ancestors, to the hell of urban ghettos seem to be, as the old saying goes, 'paved with good intentions'. These particular good intentions are named 'disaster relief' and 'food aid' by us, but they're often called food dumping at the receiving end.

In short, here's how it works: The 'free food' devastates the food markets of local farmers. The farmers either sell out to the banks or simply leave the land they didn't own in the first place for "jobs in the city". The 'free food' is usually surplus production that our governments buy up as a form of farm subsidy from large corporate farms. The land the farmer left is bought up by the same 'land grabbing' investors and corporations who received the subsidies for over-producing the the 'free food' that the government and aid agencies distributed. This land is then converted into other uses such as turning corn or sugarcane into ethanol, or turning palm oil into biodiesel. A few of the peasant farmers are hired back and paid a pittance, the rest move into the ghetto and beg for scraps while praying to get a wage slavery job so they can stop begging and buy the food s/he used to grow for him or herself.

A news program on Haiti recently explained how a local grain distributor went out of business because people were not buying her grain because they were getting free grain from the flood of food aid. A recent study by Christopher B. Barrett of Cornell University titled 'Food Aid’s Intended and Unintended Consequences' and others have concluded these economic problems are one of the main reasons why people in global crisis’s are opting for cash rather than direct food aid.

La Via Campesina is, as always, leading the way in demanding change. They were at the forefront of recent massive protests in India to stop land grabbing and defend agriculture. Another study pointed out that recent droughts in key grain-producing countries – such as the United States, Argentina and Australia – play a role as well. With dwindling yields, these richer nations buy up land in other places to secure their own food supply. Africa and Asia have accounted for 44 and 37 percent, respectively, of the total land grabbed since 2000. U.S. companies have grabbed about 777 million acres since 2000. The largest acquisition by a U.S. company was a highly publicized 1,482,632-acre purchase in Sudan by Texas-based Nile Trading and Development. The firm purchased the land for about $25,000US, and attained the rights to do whatever it pleased with it – natural resource extraction, mining, subleasing or farming.

This is capitalism in action. It is the power of capital over people and the freedom of globalized capital to move anywhere so as to ensure the biggest return on that capital be it through the road from naive good intentions, to land and water grabbing, to bio-fuel 'profits', to wage slavery or some other road to third world hell.