Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bangladesh Factory Fire: Holding Businesses Accountable

The factory fire: Global commerce, local tragedy 

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...Relatives of garment factory workers killed in a fire cry as they come to collect bodies from a mortuary in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A week after a blaze at the factory killed 112 workers, a glaring question remains unanswered: How, exactly, did brands worth fortunes end up in such a place? Retailers like Wal-Mart and Sears, whose merchandise was found in the embers, are loathe to explain. 

By ADAM GELLER AP National Writer

Updated: 12/01/2012 08:54:03 AM PST

In the charred  bones of the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory, the labels and logos—sewn and printed in scarlet and royal blue—beckon from the ashes. Even in ruins, there's no missing that these T-shirts and jeans were intended for U.S. stores and shopping carts, designed as bargains too good to pass up, or stocking stuffers just in time for the holidays and in just the right size.

But a week after the blaze outside Bangladesh's capital killed 112 workers, a glaring question remains unanswered: How, exactly, did brands worth fortunes end up in such a place? And what does the odyssey that brings them to market across thousands of miles say about the everyday economics most consumers take for granted?...

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Here's more commentary on this tragedy and similar ones:

Bangladeshi Factory Fire by Kelsey Timmerman

(Author's  friends at the Fantasy Kingdom amusement park located near the site of the factory that burned on Sunday in Ashulia, Bangladesh, killing 112 workers.)

Kelsey Timmerman is also the author of "Where Am I Wearing?" & "Where Am I Eating?"

They stood at the windows of the building, 100-feet above the ground, skin boiling. Fire behind and nothing ahead.

There was no choice.

Was it more courageous to stay and burn or to jump? It takes about two-and-a-half seconds for a person to fall 100 feet. That's two-and-a-half seconds of air cooling enflamed skin, two-and-a-half-seconds of relief before the end.

One of the advantages -- and there are few -- of jumping was that your family could identify your body. Eight workers jumped. Workers on the ground thought they were bails of clothing being thrown out the windows, as if that made sense, as if clothes need saving, as if they are worth more than lives.

This isn't the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 that outraged the American public and helped propel labor rights forward in the United States. This isn't then. This is now. This is 100 years after that fire. These aren't Americans. These are Bangladeshis making products for Americans.

Twenty-nine Bangladeshi garment workers burned alive, were asphyxiated by smoke, or jumped to their deaths during the garment factory fire in Ashulia, Bangladesh, on December 14th, 2010. I wrote about the tragedy in my book Where Am I Wearing?

I visited Ashulia in 2007, and I took 19 kids and an old farmer to the Fantasy Kingdom amusement park there for the price of one ticket to Disney World ($67). Most garment workers could never afford the $3 admission on their own. I rode a roller coaster with three young garment workers, Russell, Zumon, and Habir. Habir was 18 and a five year veteran of a local garment factory. Russell went to school for six years and spoke a little English. All three were doing their darndest to grow mustaches and had a blast on the roller coaster. The day was one of the most memorable of my life.

When I learned of the 2010 factory fire, I was horrified. Were they in the fire? Did they jump?

I hoped that I would never have to ask the question again, but on Sunday it happened once more. Just like Triangle in 1911, just like 2010 -- exits were locked, fire extinguishers didn't work, and workers lost their lives in the fire or jumped to their deaths.

Many of us will wag our fingers at the brands the factory was filling orders for, including Walmart's Faded Glory line, Sean Comb's Enyce, and Dickies. We'll criticize the companies for chasing lower wages (the minimum wage in Bangladesh is now $37; it was $24 when I was there in 2007). But they are just giving us what we want: cheaper prices.

The timing of the event is striking, since Friday was Black Friday, a day in which leftover-fueled Americans chased bottom dollar deals. Sales were up! This is good! A record Black Friday!
The Sunday of the fire was even blacker in Bangladesh.

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