First, it was the Koreans, or was it the Taiwanese, who undercut everyone producing cheap goods for the rich global north.
They were followed by the growth story that was Indonesia, where branded goods were created in battery like conditions by human beings who were treated no better than hens laying eggs for supermarket chains.
And then came the Chinese miracle, where poor peasants worked endless hours in conditions that no one from the outside world was ever allowed to see, flooding western markets with ever cheaper goods.
Now, it’s the turn of Bangladesh, the Third World nation that will go that much lower, push their desperately poor workers that much further to produce goods for brands like Lee Cooper, and the Arcadia owned BHS.
It’s a given that child labour is employed, its a given that the poor mainly women are expected to worked impossibly long hours to meet deadlines and targets set by companies who are answerable only to the shareholders, and who clearly turn a blind eye to Dickensian work conditions.
When a building called the Rana Plaza collapsed in Dacca, more than a thousand souls perished under the rubble. Like 9/11, it was a completely avoidable disaster, but unlike the attacks on the twin towers the world did not take action to find and punish the culprits.
Instead, things have largely continued as before, as last night’s EXPOSURE programme on ITV showed. Sure, there have been closures and punishments, but it won’t do. It won’t do when weak women – often too tired or frightened to speak – are kicked for not standing straight by supervisors who think it’s their given right to mistreat workers because they have been set impossibly difficult deadlines by multi billion dollar companies who employ the cheapest possible labour through using middle men and fixers.
Bangladesh is proud of its textile industry and the chances are the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ label will be the most familiar one to anyone buying goods in the west – after of course that of China. No doubt in the future, there will be another nation that will go that much lower, push their workers that much harder to meet ever tighter deadlines for the cheapest possible price. And it’s a state of affairs the ‘World’ does not seem able or willing to do anything about.
If the world is to be believed, then India is finished.
Today, her external minister sought to reassure investors that things will be OK, despite grim reports about India’s economic growth rate from credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s.
There is even talk of downgrading the nation’s investment status to junk, the first of the so-called BRICs to get this treatment from Standard and Poor.
Speaking at 37th US-India Business Council in United States, external Affair Minister SM Krishna said: “India will restore investor confidence and regain economic momentum and growth.”
This, after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee “rejected” the Standard & Poor’s report.
A down grading to junk status will mean an increase in the overseas borrowing costs for Indian companies, and as a consequence diminish the country’s ability to attract foreign investment.
So, words of reassurance or defiance from her politicians will not be enough.
For too long now, corruption has plagued the state machinery and political set up.
Whilst, India could enjoy near double-digit growth from 2004 to 08, politicians could avoid the difficult questions, like where is all this money going, how it is helping to lift a country which is estimated to have a third of the world’s poor, and where according to a 2012 World Bank estimate, 47% of the total population falls below the international poverty line of US$ 1.5 a day.
Instead, those very politicians spent most of the time, arguing that growth was a miracle that would somehow take millions and millions out of poverty.
If you dared to ask how this would happen, you would be treated with silence.
Of course, India has great institutions – look at its Supreme Court, whose work against corruption is truly supreme, its IT firms which can boast some of the most creative problem solvers in the world.
But until, serious efforts are made to tackle the obvious poverty that plagues this nation of near two billion souls, all this will come to nothing.
And with slower growth, India will not be able to simply pretend the problem is not there, it will not be able to project all her problems onto her neighbour and rival, Pakistan.
Defiance, denial or reassurance are not cures.
For too long now, those who have hidden behind words such as “miracle” have simply been living in a mirage.
One of the world’s poorest countries is now planning to join the big boys in setting up an aid agency which she hopes will win her friends and influence like her other friends and rivals, Brazil, Russia and China.
That country is India which is also celebrating its independence today.
Until recently, India – which holds half of the world’s poor – was the biggest receiver of aid.
Now she has arrived – or has she?
On the day that India was celebrating her independence, demonstrations were being held against the corruption that has plagued her politicians and businessmen.
After all they don’t have have struggle through the day like the rest of India on a dollar a day.
Like the eiltes of the other Bric states -that is Brazil, Russia, india, China – the rich are often heard to say that the poor should get off their backsides and work, after all the opportunities are there.
It is common to hear well healed Spanish elites speak like this also.
If you live in a glass tower, where you simply tick the boxes provided by the World Bank, IMF etc for economic development, then you are very lucky.
The rest of the world outside your doorway, does’t have that luxury and as events the last week in India’s former colonial master showed the poor can hit back.
If this century is indeed going to belong to Asia, then the nations that belong to this continent have to understand that the greatest contibution that the West has made to civilisation wasn’t it dazzling and startling discoveries.
What the West really achieved was to open the eyes of the humbliest citizens of the world, who have seen how even the poorest people in western nations have immerisably better lives than they.
And that should be a warning to all corrupt politicians and businessmen who plan to set up aid agencies whilst their own citizens suffer.