Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bangladesh Factory Fire Far Too Common

The day after Black Friday, America’s shopping showdown filled with door-busting deals, over 1,700 garment factory workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were frantically trying to find a door out of their factory in order to escape a fire that had engulfed their building.Over 120 did not make it out and were incinerated or jumped from the top floors of an eight-story building to their deaths. It was the only choice they had because there weren’t enough fire escapes to escape the inferno.

According to news reports, the factory was operated by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, a major Bangladeshi garment exporter that supplies Walmart, Carrefour, IKEA and other major retailers in the United States and Europe.

The story is all too familiar in
Bangladesh: hundreds have died since 2006 in factories whose working conditions are deplorable and fire prevention measures are secondary to profits.

In 2001, I did a fire safety project in
Bangladesh in the garment factory sector of their economy. I worked with the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center to design a program to train trainers and workers in how to identify fire safety problems and how to safely escape from their workplaces. We trained workers in Dhaka and Chittagong and formed safety committees inside their plants.

The day after I got on the ground in
Bangladesh, a fire broke out in a factory in the Mirpur district in Dhaka. The iron gates to the factory were locked and 23 workers, mostly young women, were crushed to death by workers trying to escape from the factory.

The factory owners ordered the front gate locked in order to prevent workers from stealing thread. The factory owners were convicted of negligence and were fined about $18
U.S. for all the workers killed. No one went to jail for locking the gates.

In press releases as of this writing from the BGMEA, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters Association, they will stand behind their pledge to pay families of the deceased workers $1,250 per worker – a pittance for a lost loved one.

Walmart and every company receiving garments from these factories have been inside of them and know first hand the working conditions their garments are made under. They will all condemn the conditions and the actions of the owners of these factories, but they continue to use them to supply their stores for their “door busting” everyday prices.

The program we designed and implemented won an International Health and Safety Award, but people are still dying in these factories. It seems that little has been done to change the culture of production-at-any-cost even if it costs the lives of the workers making our clothes. We as consumers must insist that the clothes we buy not come at the cost of workers’ lives.

> The article above was written by Al LaFrenier and is reprinted from WorkdayMinnesota.  Al is a labor activist, was a member of UNITE when the AFL-CIO requested someone from that union help research and design a fire safety program and work with the stakeholders on the ground in Bangladesh. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Labor World newspaper in

No comments: