Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Garment factory fire in Bangladesh

In an industrial catastrophe reminiscent of the famous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City (where 146 garment workers burned to death), a fire incinerated the 8-floor Tazreen Fashions Limited factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, burning to death 120 workers & injuring over 150, as of today. The Tazreen factory which opened in 2009 employed about 1,700 people. Bangladesh, with about 4,500 garment factories, is the world’s second biggest garment exporter after China, with clothing making up 80% of its $24 billion annual exports to several countries including the US & in Europe.

Tazreen made clothing for many retailers who are now trying to distance themselves from the disaster. Walmart & Sears now have the unspeakable temerity to claim Tazreen was producing their clothing without their knowledge or authorization so as not to face any boycotts or other repercussions in their holiday sales. The Bangladesh government is claiming sabotage & arson as the cause of the fire but this is likely a cover for the manufacturers since fire officials report 500 people have died in garment factory fires since 2006. Factory conditions are wretched, with overcrowding, locked fire doors, & without enforcement of safety laws. Of course, now the government can feign a hunt for the saboteurs rather than coming down like a ton of bricks on factory owners to force them to improve conditions of labor & safety.

Since yesterday, thousands of Bangladeshi workers have hit the streets in protest, closing down over 200 factories, blocking a major highway, throwing stones at factories, & smashing vehicles. They demand justice for those killed & injured & for improved safety. The Wall Street Journal called this massive outrage a “Fire Remembrance” but history will more likely record it as the day the revolution began. This is a photo of the protest in Dhaka. Factory owners should look at this photo & tremble. The rest of us should consider boycotting & picketing Walmart & Sears. Our fullest solidarity with the garment workers of Bangladesh. May our brothers & sisters RIP.  (Photo by Shariful Islam/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

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