The Collapse at Rana Plaza
The death toll from the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh was still being counted (it would eventually exceed 1,000) when the Walt Disney Company publicized a previously made decision no longer to source “branded merchandise” from Bangladesh and other “highest-risk countries”: Ecuador, Venezuela, Belarus and Pakistan.
The disaster near Dhaka, Bangladesh, is now considered the worst ever in the history of the global garment industry, surpassing fires last year that killed hundreds in Pakistan and Bangladesh, surpassing the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 that killed 146 workers and led to a revolution in workplace safety in the United States. Like the many Russian and Italian victims at Triangle, most of the victims of the catastrophe at Rana Plaza were young rural women, working in a newly emerging industrial sector. Pope Francis has publicly worried over the dubious opportunity such jobs offer, describing them as a kind of low-wage “slave labor.”
After this great loss of life, a national overhaul of building codes and worker safety and empowerment standards in Bangladesh are warranted. The suffering shines a necessary light on this shadow world of modern retail business and a troubling lack of oversight by major U.S. retailers that subcontract manufacturing in the developing world.
Disney’s decision to withdraw from Bangladesh and the loss of jobs this entails may only add to the suffering, though company officials say Disney will consider returning if manufacturers sign on to the Better Work program, aimed at improving transparency and working conditions. Disney should take advantage of any opportunity to honor that commitment, to come back to Bangladesh and clean up the industry it helped to create.
The Crash Next Time
Though opinion is divided on who caused the financial crisis of 2008, there is little question that someone was responsible. The catalyst of the next financial crisis, however, may turn out not to be unscrupulous bankers but sophisticated formulas. Since the crash in 2008, a revolution has quietly unfolded on Wall Street, sparked by complicated algorithms that allow traders to make transactions at hyper speeds. Trades can now be made in half a millionth of a second. At that rate, it is no longer possible to say that human calculation controls the markets. Welcome to the age of the machines.
There are no government regulations governing high-speed trading. The Dodd-Frank Act was designed to address the causes of the last crash, not the next one. The practice has already caused chaos in the markets. When a report appeared on April 23 on the Associated Press’s Twitter account that the White House had been bombed and President Obama had been injured, the Dow Jones Industrial Index took a sharp dive. The report was a hoax. The account had been hacked. Imagine what might happen if the trading programs were compromised instead of Twitter. The effect on the economy could be disastrous.
Computers allow traders to profit from the volume of trades. Buy one stock at $10 and sell it at $10.00001 and the profit is miniscule. Multiply that by millions and the allure of computerized trading becomes clear. Congress has held hearings on the practice but more regulation is needed. Two Congressmen have proposed a tax on each trade, which could cut down on the number of transactions and reduce volatility. The Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace has also proposed a transaction tax in order to generate revenue for the developing world. Regulators should do something before the markets turn to digital rubble.
Creating a hit screenplay usually requires careful attention to plot, character and setting. Soon it may also require mastery of statistics. A new service being pushed by a company called Worldwide Motion Picture Group offers studios the chance to have scripts reviewed by a team of analysts who compare key elements of the proposed film with those of past films in an effort to assess their potential success. The process includes research into an extensive database of survey results. Producers hope the analysis will help minimize the element of risk in an often uncertain business. But screenwriters are less enthusiastic, worrying that the creative element of writing will be minimized in the name of profit.
While it is hard to fault a studio for wanting to secure financial success, the creative evolution of film could cease if studios seek only to mimic the success of blockbusters past. Scriptwriters, like any artists, should have room in their process to be inspired—by a chance encounter, an auteur admired or even the God of surprises.
So what sort of changes might the service recommend? The company argues against films with cursed superheroes, summoned demons or bowling scenes. But it should be remembered that focus groups can be fickle, and many an apparent flop has become a fan favorite. “The Big Lebowski,” for instance, would have been gutted had the studio cut every bowling-alley scene. It is a warning the studio did not have to abide.