Tech professor defends Amazon in controversy over Bangladesh worker safety

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Image of Benjamin Powell from Texas Tech

LUBBOCK, Texas — A Texas Tech professor wrote an op/ed article that was published nationally Tuesday in which he was critical of the critics of

Professor of economics at Texas Tech University, Benjamin Powell, wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner.

Powell said it is hard to feel bad for billionaires like Jeff Bezos, but Amazon is getting a raw deal. Amazon was publicly shamed recently for selling products made by low-wage factories in Bangladesh. Those same factories are criticized for safety issues.

“The reality is, their sourcing from Bangladesh helps poor Bangladeshi workers,” Powell said to

Powell wrote for the Washington Examiner that better safety is not free.

“It costs money to improve safety, just like it costs money to pay workers, both are part of a worker’s total compensation.”

benjamin powell, professor at texas tech

“When Amazon or any other company sources from Bangladesh, it’s largely driven by the lower cost of production there than in other places. But that lower cost of production is also associated with lower productivity in Bangladesh, than in other places,” Powell said.

Powell wrote about an effort called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh which was established after major factory safety concerns. There are more than 1,000 factories which are a part of the accord. But there are still many firms that are not party to those safety agreements.

“In fact, even the companies that are being contracted with Amazon, the factories there don’t meet U.S. safety standards,” Powell said. “If you impose U.S. safety standards on factories in Bangladesh, virtually no company would manufacture anything in Bangladesh because it would be too costly relative to their productivity.”

Powell wrote for the Washington Examiner that the factories participating in the accord are disproportionately larger firms with higher revenues, and forcing safety standards on smaller firms would result in job losses for the people who need them most.

In other words, the workers would actually be worse off.

“The point is, it costs money to improve safety, just like it costs money to pay workers, both are part of a worker’s total compensation,” Powell said. “When workers, like those in these firms, are desperately poor and trying to feed, clothe and shelter their family, they prefer the majority of their meager compensation in the form of wages.”

Powell believes there is a right way and a wrong way to stand up for workers in Bangladesh. He’s asking critics of Amazon to take a more detailed approach.

CLICK HERE to read his op/ed.

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