On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory where 146 workers died. The company had blocked the exits and the stairwells so employees couldn't leave or take a break. As the fire spread, workers were trapped and the only escape was to jump ten stories to their deaths. The outrage sparked reforms and unionization for U.S. garment workers.
Over 100 years later on November 24th, 2012 the exact same thing happened. Workers burned alive and jumping to their deaths has gone global. In a history repeats itself Déjà vu, we've outsourced our history of worker exploitation and lack of safe work environments along with American jobs. Once again, fire escape routes were locked by managers and workers couldn't escape the flames. In Bangladesh 112 people were killed in a garment factory fire.
The flames at the Tazreen Fashions factory outside Dhaka spread rapidly on the ground floor, trapping those on the higher floors of the nine-story building. There were no exterior fire escapes, according to officials, and many died after jumping from upper floors to escape the flames.
As firemen continued to remove bodies Sunday, officials said at least 112 people had died but that the number of fatalities could go higher.
According to ABC news, over 700 people have died in Bangladesh garment factory fires in the last five years. These garment factories make clothes for multinational corporations who in turn sell us their cheap imported goods. These used to be American jobs. Companies that sell to Walmart, Sears and other U.S. retailers offshore outsourced clothing manufacturing to countries where there are no safety standards, workers have no rights and wages are so low people can barely afford rice. It's 1911 for Bangladesh as the United States races to the bottom on cheap prices and cheap labor.
Charred multinational corporate clothing labels were discovered in the burnt out garment factory of Bangladesh proving Tazreen Fashions is just another sweat shop for the international clothing industry.
They say they found labels for Faded Glory, a Wal-Mart private label, along with labels they said traced back to Sears and a clothing company owned by music impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs.
The fires aren't isolated to Bangladesh either. Another top outsourcing destination for clothing, Pakistan, had a fire in September that killed 315 people. There are also reports of murder and torture against workers fighting for safety and rights.
Unpaid wages. Abusive bosses. Mr. Islam, a labor organizer, fought for their rights. Security forces found Mr. Islam, too. His phone was tapped, the police regularly harassed him, and domestic intelligence agents once abducted and beat him, his co-workers and family say. More than once, he was told his advocacy for workers was hurting a country where garment exports drive the domestic economy.
And then no one could find Mr. Islam.
He disappeared April 4. Days later, his family discovered that he had been tortured and killed.
Abuses where managers lock fire exits also happened in the United States in 1991. But for Bangladesh and Pakistan, that 20¢ an hour wage plus non-existent worker safety or unions has U.S. retailers flocking to these countries in droves. The race is on to provide the ultimate sweat shop slave labor for the garment industry. Statisticians tout the exports and the millions of workers per nation. Never mentioned are the real costs of those cheap clothes to workers around the globe including the United States.
The people of Bangladesh took to the streets in protest over this latest completely avoidable tragedy.
Garment workers staged mass protests Monday to demand the end to "deathtrap" labour conditions after Bangladesh's worst-ever textile factory fire, as a new blaze sparked fresh panic and terror.
Ahead of the first of a series of mass funerals for the 110 victims, survivors of Saturday night's blaze joined several thousand colleagues to block a highway and march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia.
"Workers from several factories have left work and joined the protest. They want exemplary punishment for Tazreen's owners," said Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman, referring to a plant near the capital where the blaze broke out late Saturday.
Police said Ashulia's more than 500 factories who make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco declared a wild-cat "holiday", fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.
"Most workers are in shock. They want to see safety improvements to these deathtrap factories," Babul Akter, head of a garment union.
The problem is the people of Bangladesh have protested many times and the garment factories re-open, nothing changes and more people die. This is the situation with multinational corporations hunting the globe for the cheapest labor. If one country does something to protect workers, prosecute corporate crime or raise wages, the soulless multinationals simply pick up stakes and move production to another nation where officials will let them do whatever they want, including getting away with murder.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is trying to bring awareness that multinational corporations are behind such inexcusable abuses of global workers. This is a Valiant effort yet as long as corporations are allowed to hunt the globe for cheap exploitable labor with impunity, we doubt much will change.
Below is American Experience's documentary on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factor Fire. Unfortunately this is not our history anymore, it is our future.