The Tangier tragedy was a wake-up call. While outrage is necessary, we need more tangible actions to avoid a repeat of such catastrophes.
Rabat – The Tangier tragedy that took the lives of 28 workers on February 8 reflects the extent of corruption’s deep roots in Morocco. Almost all Moroccan institutions, including elected and unelected offices, local councils, and public administrations, are mired in a cycle of corruption and administrative negligence or complacency.
Nothing occurs in Morocco without local authorities’ knowledge, so the owner of the illegal textile facility should not be a scapegoat.
No matter the scope of renovations a person wants to undertake on his house or shop, the neighborhood delegate (Moqadem) — in charge of bringing information on all neighborhood activities to the higher authorities — is the first to know.
Taking this into account, the illegal textile factory’s owner should not bear sole responsibility for the tragic incident in Tangier. Equally responsible are the Moqadem, Pacha, and Qaid, who were most likely aware of the factory’s existence.
That said, the legal authorities should not just serve us the usual, often empty slogan that ‘an investigation is ongoing to shed further light on the tragedy.’ Instead, they should hand the most severe penalties to anyone who intentionally violated and callously transgressed the labor law, leading to a tragedy that has shocked Moroccans and devastated families who lost their loved ones.
Accountability should also extend to corporate actors who were engaged with this factory to minimize expenses and maximize profits.
In Tangier alone, 500 textile factories illegally employ 80,000 laborers — mostly women — who work in unfavorable conditions, 12 hours a day and six days a week, with no respect whatsoever for the labor law or the country’s current health measures.
For the sake of extra profit, these corporate figures not only exploit these factories’ vulnerable workers by compensating them far below Morocco’s minimum wage, which is MAD 2,638 ($296) per month. They also condone their shameful treatment. Many factories are located in the basement or parking garage of apartment buildings in residentials areas where working conditions are extreme and unhealthy. Laborers work nonstop under the eye of security guards who prevent them from even raising their heads.
This gives us a reflection on the working conditions of tens of thousands of textile workers in Tangier and in other Moroccan regions.
Corruption and administrative complacency surely played a pivotal role in the making of the Tangier tragedy. Even so, the debate should not disproportionately center on the administrative corruption that promotes the emergence of such scandalous practices and allows unscrupulous entrepreneurs to open such human exploitation factories.
Yes, it is urgent to denounce how corruption and administrative leniency directly or indirectly conspire to allow callous entrepreneurs to exploit their helpless and overworked employees without contracts and in total disregard of decency and other basic human values.
But the debate should also take considerable notice of the inhumane working conditions in (almost) all of Tangier’s textile factories.
Many reports indicate that the textile factories witness a modern form of slavery where workers are exploited to the bone and asked to exhaustively produce under threat of a salary deduction. This pushes many workers to exceed the already-exhausting 12 hours of work a day—only to meet their employers’ expectations and avoid being fired.
If Moroccans are serious about avoiding a repeat of the Tangier tragedy, empty condemnation and the usual spectacle of venting sorrow and showing concern on social media will not be of much use. If anything can serve the country, it is first and foremost holding our government and elected officials accountable.
In addition to fighting corruption in all its forms and harshly punishing unscrupulous managers who endanger lives, the state should make efforts to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable workers whom greedy investors see as mere tools for quick profit.
A real debate should also take place about the corporate social responsibility of Spanish textile firms, the main customers of Morocco’s textile factories. Over the years, countless reports have surfaced about the abuse and inhumane conditions Moroccan workers suffer, with large textile groups such Inditex (owner of the brands Zara, Massimo Dutti, Mango Dolce & Gabbana, and Pull & Bear) Cortefiel, or El Corte Ingles doing nothing to push their suppliers to improve working conditions.
As Morocco World News has reported, nearly three million Moroccans working in the informal sector are still in danger of another catastrophe if there is no substantial action to address administrative complacency and punish some employers’ unconscionable disregard for the health and welfare of their employees.
After the brief, necessary stage of public outrage, Moroccans should start genuinely debating the root causes of such tragedies and how to decisively remedy them. From the government and local officials, Moroccans should require more than finger-pointing and the blaming of third parties. Moroccans should demand proof of accountability, not just their usual promises of “an investigation has been opened to determine the circumstances of the case and punish all those responsible.”
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.