I'm not quite so starry eyed as to think that if we all just try a little harder we can all have <fill in the blank> and life will be ducky. I do think that expecting reasonable working conditions for people, just because they happen to be human, is a worthwhile goal.
I suggest looking at the world from the point of view of time. Assume that the US is living in the present but that, say, China, is living in the early-mid 19th century, Sub-Saharan Africa is living in the 12th century, and Northern Europe (excluding UK and Ireland) is living in the 22nd century.
Here's a copy of "The People of the Abyss" by Jack London: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1688
It is a story of the conditions of the lowest classes 100 years ago - we've come a long way in that time but how
we have reached that point is another matter and one that is not open to nations today.
You will see that the conditions that Bangladesh 'enjoys' are those of the 15th century. This is the evolution of society. You simply cannot alter their social and economic model by imposing something that the population has not the money to sustain. In Bangladesh, the garment industry accounts for the majority of their exports. If the conditions and wages were on a par with Western standards, they would not sell anything and would quickly revert to the early Iron Age.
I think a basic education
Have a look at the percentage of GDP spent on education by the West - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_spending_on_education_(%25_of_GDP
) - now compare with that their GDP is. The 3rd world countries do not have the sort of money we do. Think what resources and finance it takes to have every child able to attend a school within walking distance (say 3 miles) of their home. What poor family in Africa can afford that and can afford to do without the labour of a 9 year old?
and immunizations as appropriate to the environment is another good one.
Someone above has pointed out that this creates a situation where people who were starving have children who starve. Look at the size of the family in the 19th century - 10 children of whom 3 survived was not uncommon. In the UK, it was only after WW2 that the size of the family went down to 2.5 children of whom 2.49 would survive.
I also realize that in many parts of the world, these things would be huge leaps forward.
It really is essential to see the whole picture, sure, you would feel better, but would it work? Are people in the West willing to see their standard of living drop to 19th century levels? That's what it would take.
Assume that tomorrow, everyone's standard of living were that of the average American - how long would the supplies of fuel, water and food last? Earth is a zero-sum game.
I'd like to think that there's some baseline beneath which we can all agree that no one should have to exist.
Yes, and that baseline is dictated by Nature and human nature, once you cross it, you're dead.
We in the West do not do too badly, but if we spent less (either because we decided to or because we bought less because it cost more) 3rd World economies would fail.
Here's a List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capitaWiki
The average is $17,161p.a. which is about that of Russia. They are the people who get an average standard.
Here is a distribution map: look where the majority of the world population is. There is not enough money to go round.
Finally, to show how hard it is to do the correct thing, you said,
I already drive a fuel efficient vehicle and plan to buy a flex fuel one next, assuming I can afford it when the current car dies.
To be able to even think about buying a car - any car, even a clunker - you have to be in the top 10% of the world's richest people. To think of a "flex-fuel car, you have to be in the top 2%.
And you are thinking about a "flex-fuel"??? You do realise that they are more eco-unfriendly than an ordinary car? You do realise that the raw materials for the batteries are produced using (i) labour in primitive conditions (ii) in very short supply (iii) The batteries are reliant upon electricity produced by non-renewable resources? (iv) the ingredients of the batteries are very hard to dispose of (v) You burn fuel to make electricity: for every 100KwH of fuel burned, the best you can get is 42KwH of electricity. Of that 42%, only 40% is turned into real power, this gives you 17% of the energy used to create the electricity. In a modern diesel, it is nearer 30%.
And if you went by bus with 40 other people, your personal carbon-footprint would be miniscule. But, like me, you're not willing to do that.
To continue my depressing mood, "There's nothing anyone can do." We have to wait until the rest catch up. And, in the scheme of things, they won't, there will always be more people with less than people who are (in their minds) comfortable.