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Sadly, it’s not history from March 25, 1911:

Witnesses said the workers, mostly women, ran for safety as the fire engulfed the plant but were unable to get through narrow exits.

"Many jumped out from the windows and were injured, or died on the spot," Milon, a resident, said.

A fire this past Saturday, November 24, 2012 at a garment factory in Savar, northwest of Dhaka, Bangladesh evoked memories of New York's deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, killing over a hundred workers in the multi-story factory building.  As with the early reports of many tragedies, the details are still confused and often contradictory.  The death toll appears to be galvanizing in the neighborhood of 110 to 124 workers in the factory, variously reported as eight to ten stories tall, with some of the upper floors apparently under construction.  The death toll might have been far worse but for the fact that many of the factory’s 5,000-plus workers had left for the day, leaving only about 600 remaining in the ill-protected building, which lacked fire escapes, featured narrow, constricted stairs, workspaces cluttered with combustible product and rubbish, and a lack of the most basic fire safety features.

The Tazreen Fashions factory, owned by Tuba Group, manufactured clothing for many Western retailers.  According to a press release from the International Labor Rights Forum,

In addition to finding evidence that the factory produced Walmart’s Faded Glory brand, researchers found over a dozen other brand logos on clothing and documents in the factory, including Ace, C&A, Dickies, Fashion Basics, Sean Combs Co.'s Enyce brand, Edinburgh Woollen Mill's brands P.G. field and Country Rose, Hippo, Infinity Woman, Karl Rieker GMBH & Co., Kebo Raw, Kik, Piaza Italia, Soffe, and True Desire.

International Labor Rights Forum

The predominantly-female workforce in Bangladesh garment factories earn as little as ten to twenty cents an hour for their labors – often in excess of 80 hours a week.  There are virtually no worker protections, labor regulation is lax, and unions virtually non-existent.  The consequences are predictable.
Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second-largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women.

Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
New York Times

But responsibility rests on far more expansive shoulders than Walmart, Hilfiger, and the rest of the outsourced garment industry.  Over a century ago, Florence Kelley, the first Executive Secretary of the National Consumers League said,  

                                      To live means to buy.
                                      To buy means to have power.
                                      To have power means to have responsibility.

In my post several years ago on the 1948 environmental disaster in Donora, Pennsylvania, I wrote:

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 30% of its resources.  While that represents a grossly unbalanced degree of consumption, it also constitutes a tremendous amount of power -- and responsibility.  We can make cleaner production happen world-wide simply because we, as the largest consumer nation, demand it.  We need only the will to apply the power we hold.
That the same sentiment applies to the conditions under which our fellow workers in other countries toil goes without saying.  While we can hope that our government finds the will to force greater attention to worker safety from our trading partners, we have to recognize that these conditions do not arise without our complicity.  And they can be stopped with our cooperation.

These things are not new, and they should not be surprising.    History can teach, but it is up to us to learn.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

Organizations involved in anti-sweatshop activity:
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights
International Labor Rights Forum
Global Exchange
US  Labor Education in the Americas Project
List of organizations at Sweatfree
List of organizations at Global Exchange

This list is by no means intended to be complete.  Please add organizations you know of in the comments and I'll add to the list when I return.

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar (4+ / 0-)

    Sorry to post and run, but my employer harbors unrealistic expectations of a fair day's labor for the fair day's pay they're giving me.  I'll respond to comments later this afternoon.  As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

    We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

    by dsteffen on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 10:52:09 AM PST

  •  On hearing about the Bangladesh fire, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hnichols, dsteffen, marykk

    my first thoughts were of the poor workers, and my next thoughts were of your diaries.

    •  Same here. This lesson had already been learned (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire decades ago as I learned from reading dsteffen's diary several months ago. How could it be allowed to be so easily be repeated?

      It sounds like most of the goods are going to huge corporate American buyers. Are we really willing to sacrifice lives so corporations can make billions more and consumers can save a few pennies?

      •  The tragedy of globalization... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hnichols watching the disasters we suffered through decades ago being repeated almost note-for-note before our very eyes.  The Chinese coal mining industry continues to repeat the U.S. tragedies of the first decade of the 20th century, and for all the same reasons, and with the same results.  The contaminated baby formula of a few years ago echo the conditions that brought ablout the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1905 and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.  Dam collapses in eastern Europe, nightclub fires in Russia -- the list goes on.

        It's just so painful to watch.  And so fucking unnecessary.

        We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

        by dsteffen on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 04:05:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's uncanny... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...all the similarities to the Triangle fire that keep popping up in the newsreports.  

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting.  I appreciate the support.

      We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

      by dsteffen on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 04:15:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I had the exact same response (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      in the exact same order.

      If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

      by marykk on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 04:38:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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