A factory fire in Bangladesh that killed over 100 workers is connected to corporations that supply cheap goods to American consumers. Disney, Sears, ENYCE and Wal-Mart labels and documents were found in the charred wreckage.
Garments and documents left behind in the factory show it was used by a host of major American and European retailers, though at least one of them – Wal-Mart – had been aware of safety problems. Wal-Mart blames a supplier for using Tazreen Fashions without its knowledge.
The fire has elevated awareness of something labor groups, retailers and governments have known for years: Bangladesh’s fast-growing garment industry – second only to China’s in exports – is rife with dangerous workplaces. More than 300 workers there have died in fires since 2006.
Police on Wednesday arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers who died in Saturday’s fire, the deadliest in the South Asian country’s less than 35-year history of exporting clothing.
It’s a little over 100 years since 146 women and child workers burned to death or fell to death at the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City.
They were locked in, never had a chance. Here is one historical account…
275 girls started to collect their belongings as they were leaving work at 4:45 PM on Saturday. Within twenty minutes some of girls’ charred bodies were lined up along the East Side of Greene Street. Those girls who flung themselves from the ninth floor were merely covered with tarpaulins where they hit the concrete. The Bellevue morgue was overrun with bodies and a makeshift morgue was set up on the adjoining pier on the East River. Hundred’s of parents and family members came to identify their lost loved ones. 146 employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were dead the night of March 25, 1911. The horror of their deaths led to numerous changes in occupational safety standards that currently ensure the safety of workers today.
The women who worked at Triangle Shirtwaist did not die in vain. Think of them next time you have a fire drill at work. And the labor movement does not stop at borders. Industrial Workers of the World is one organization that early on recognized the global economy. Everything we touch is a product of someone’s labor.
UPDATE: Walmart executives nixed a plan to require fire safety standards for their Bangladesh supplier.
At a meeting in April 2011, more than a dozen retailers including Wal-Mart, Gap, Target and JC Penney met in Dhaka to discuss safety at their supplier Bangladeshi garment factories. Bloomberg News revealed minutes from this meeting Wednesday, which show that Wal-Mart nixed a plan that would require retailers to pay their suppliers enough to cover safety improvements.
Last month, a fire in a factory used by Wal-Mart killed 112 workers. There were no fire exits. Despite the fact that more than 700 Bangladeshi garment workers have died since 2005, Wal-Mart and Gap refused last year to pay higher costs for safety. Bloomberg cited comments from a document produced by Wal-mart’s director of ethical sourcing and a Gap official for the Dhaka meeting.
A Republican buzzword is ‘deregulation’. History shows that in the absence of government, business will cut safety standards until an accident provokes public outrage. The drive for profit will always lead in the direction of exploitation. We should not have to learn this over and over.