Last week's collapse of an eight-storey building on the outskirts of Dhaka was horrific, deadly - and entirely preventable. Nearly 400 Bangladeshis died when the building crumbled into a pile of cement and brick. But the incident has done more than produce tragic headlines: it has also put a much needed spotlight on the often haphazard nature of international labour practices.
The latest victims were garment workers employed in factories that supplied western retailers, such as Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw. Both agreed to pay compensation to the victims.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in Bangladesh, where labour regulations are routinely flouted as suppliers scramble to fulfil the growing demand of global clothing chains flocking to them for cheap production.
Bangladesh hosts hundreds of factories contracted by foreign firms, employing hundreds of thousands. Many of these people work in the garment industry, an industry plagued by a history of accidents and violations. The building collapse is just the latest in a long string of workplace tragedies; last November, over 100 were killed in a massive inferno at another garment factory.
This time, however, the loss of life is so great, and the international outrage so palpable, that there is reason to hope global retailers will begin to push for improvements.
Global firms reliant on contract manufacturing in developing countries have a responsibility to those making their products. At the very least, companies can compel their suppliers to comply with the labour and safety standards of the countries in which they operate.
There are precedents for this pressure. Last year, Apple's biggest supplier, Foxconn, agreed to improve working conditions, hours and pay after Foxconn factories in China came under criticism. Mattel, the global toy manufacturer, has long required its contractors to undergo independent audits of their labour practices.
The risk following any disaster like the one in Dhaka is that consumers mistakenly believe that boycotting products from international companies will support the cause of workers. It will not. In Bangladesh, an estimated 7.5 million have left in search of work; boycotts that cost jobs at home would be another kind of disaster.