NEW YORK — He may be known as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and for championing microcredit, but Muhammad Yunus was fulfilling his Glasgow Caledonian University Chancellor duties Thursday when he talked up the school’s satellite New York office at the Stephen Weiss Studio here. GCU’s 64 Wooster Street space will bow in January.
This story first appeared in the September 30, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In his remarks, Yunus also urged attendees to help protect and provide for underpaid and mistreated apparel-factory workers. His words were well placed considering the crowd included U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt and Marks & Spencer’s Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, among others. With plans to host town hall meetings, TED-type lectures, executive education and “made-to-measure” programs with companies interested in improving labor standards or supply-chain issues, GCU expects 1,000 students and executives to pass through its SoHo doors next year.
After his remarks, Yunus spoke to WWD about how the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has made people realize, “What is happening? Why are people dying? I don’t want to wear shirts stained with the blood of the people who died there. Why isn’t anyone making sure those buildings are safe?
“This is the time to capture the moment to resolve these issues,” he added. “Today, Bangladesh produces $20 billion in apparel, and that figure is expected to increase to $35 billion by 2016.”
Female factory workers “have transformed Bangladesh by leaving their homes, coming to the city, having new lives for themselves as opposed to being stuck inside their homes. These women are brave and what do we give them? Eleven cents [for an hourly wage],” Yunus said.
Creating a “Happy Workers” tag for garments would require spending $1 more for a $10 shirt to ensure that the factory workers are treated fairly. The extra dollar would go into a common fund for workers’ health services, insurance, education for children and retirement benefits. “Because if you take 10 percent from each of the [$20 billion in] garments [made in Bangladesh] that would amount to $2 billion for all kinds of services,” Yunus said. “So consumers can take the responsibility. You don’t have to convince every company to do it. If one company does it and consumers respond very well, every company will be attracted to do it.”
As for whether housing, child care and education should be provided to workers, Yunus said, “Everything is wrong. Nobody cares. That should absolutely be included. If we pay attention, this problem can be solved just like that [snapping his fingers] except nobody pays attention. Everybody is busy making money. I have said, ‘I’m not stopping you from making money.’ But pay attention to this.”