By David Bacon
The fire that killed more than 100 workers at the clothing factory in Bangladesh was an act of industrial homicide, which must not be tolerated. This was the most recent of several such crimes, leading to the deaths of another 500 people, mostly young women.
These fires are a consequence of a production system that places the profits of multinational clothing manufacturers and their contractors above the lives of people.
The Bangladesh fire tells us a lot about the conditions under which the garments consumers bought on Black Friday were made. Reports from the scene say there were no fire escapes. Several young women jumped from the windows to get away from the flames, as their sisters did a century ago in New York City in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. A number of Tazreen workers were trapped inside and burned to death.
Wal-Mart, which was among Tazreen’s buyers, had put the factory on “orange” status (green for good, yellow for not so good, orange for a warning, and red for a contractor whose orders are cut off). Yet the company kept giving Tazreen orders.
Contractors like Tazreen compete against each other to get the orders. In a garment factory, the main way they cut costs is by cutting wages (which were 21 cents an hour at Tazreen) and expenses like safety.
Workers in Bangladesh have been trying to win the right to organize strong unions to raise those wages and improve working conditions.
But police in Bangladesh have been putting down demonstrations by workers in this region for months. One activist, Aminul Islam, was tortured and killed this year.
Manufacturers claim that if wages and safety costs rise, so will the prices of garments in U.S. stores. Yet if wages of 21 cents an hour were doubled, it would add only a few pennies to the cost of even a cheap T-shirt.
David Bacon is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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