Nel's New Day

November 26, 2012

We Could Be like Bangladesh

Over 101 years ago 129 women and 17 men died when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire in New York City. The youngest to be killed in this disaster was 11-year-old Mary Goldstein. Managers had locked the doors to stairwells and exits to stop stealing and keep the workers from taking unauthorized breaks. As a result, many of the deaths came from people jumping from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the concrete streets below.

Because of the outcry from this tragic event, legislation created improved factory safety standards. Nothing like this happened again in the United States. The fire also spurred the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union that fought for better working conditions. After 146 people died in this fire, government could not avoid creating laws to protect workers. The New York legislature passed the first laws, and other states in the country followed. Unions became more success in protecting workers.

The laws were not always successful. Ninety years after this fire, 25 workers at a poultry factory in Hamlet (NC) died in a fire. Again, exits were locked or blocked to stop stealing. North Carolina is one of 23 “right to work” states in the nation which means that the workers in the states have no protection from unions.

Two days ago a fire in a garment factor in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed at least 124 people. The eight-story building had locked emergency exits and fire extinguishers that didn’t work because they were there to impress inspectors. When the fire alarm went off, workers were told to stay at their sewing machines. Again some of these people died after they jumped from the building.

Workers knew about the dangers of the 4,000 garment factories throughout Bangladesh: just two months ago, tens of thousands of garment factory workers fought police in their protests against low wages and dangerous working conditions. Minimum wage is $38 per month. In addition to sub-standard safety issues, gangs and thugs, hired by employers, wander throughout the factories, harassing and assaulting workers.

Dozens of workplace fires in Bangladesh have killed more than 600 employees in the country’s garment industry since 2006. No owner has faced prosecution for poor safety conditions.  Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes.

Retailers in the United States, including Walmart, purchase clothing from Bangladesh to sell in this country. One day after people in the United States spent long hours on Black Friday joyfully searching for the cheapest clothes, 124 people who worked for $38 per month died in a factory making these clothes. The 124 people who died in the Bangladesh fire lived halfway around the world, but they died making clothing cheap enough that Walmart was willing to buy the merchandise.

Walmart has tried to disconnect themselves from this tragedy. First the company said that after one of their auditors gave a “high risk” safety rating last May to the factory that killed 124 people. The company said they would conduct another inspection within a year. Then they said that the factory was not authorized to provide clothing for Walmart but a supplier contracted work to it “in direct violation of our policies.” (This is the same company that has a policy to pay women and men equally. Their “policies” don’t mean much.)

The fire should make everyone in the United States think about our country’s future if conservatives succeed in doing away with unions and regulations. If Republicans achieve what they call “small government,” workers can return to the days of  huge factory fires, locked exits, and wages like those in Bangladesh.

The next time you shop for the cheapest clothing at Walmart, think where it was made and how the people who made it had to suffer. And think about how “small government” with no regulations may result in the 99 percent of people in the United States living like the people in Bangladesh.



  1. “think about how “small government” with no regulations may result in the 99 percent of people in the United States living like the people in Bangladesh.”



    Comment by Lainie — November 27, 2012 @ 1:32 AM | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW and commented:
    In 2002 NOW named Walmart a “Merchant of Shame”. Nel Ward’s article is only an example of one of the many reasons that NOW is demanding changes in Walmart’s unfair practices.


    Comment by Central Oregon Coast NOW — November 26, 2012 @ 9:33 PM | Reply

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