Issue 24, Volume 85
Dec. 12, 2012
On Nov. 30, a fire at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh resulted in the death of 112 labourers who perished as a result of either burning alive, asphyxiation by smoke or by jumping to their ultimate demise off the side of the building. The factory produced garments for companies such as Disney, Wal-Mart and Sears, and paid workers around $37 per month, according to Reuters reports.
The tale is shocking and upsetting, but it is hardly new. It eerily echoes the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 in which 146 labourers died in a very similar fashion.
There is no conspiracy surrounding the fact that both fires resulted in comparable mortality rates, but rather, there is just shame and embarrassment.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire served as a lightning rod in American history that caused scholars, the media, politicians and the public alike to question the working conditions of the manufacturing sector.
Much attention was devoted to improving the working conditions of labourers
and as such, legislation was written to protect workers. The event was used by many to effectively demonstrate the benefits of having a union; namely, improving the safety regulations of organizations.
It is especially timely and fitting that the Tazreen Fashions fire occurred in the middle of the holiday season. All across the world, customers are busy pulling out their wallets and purchasing gifts for their friends and family. This in itself is not wrong as giving gifts is part of the modern holiday tradition and it serves as a good means of spreading cheer.
What is wrong is purchasing goods made offshore and not questioning their sourcing or why the products are so inexpensive.
We can only hope that Bangladesh improves its working standards for labourers much like New York did following the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, but we cannot rely on them alone to make a difference.
We can actively make a difference by questioning both where we shop and what we’re purchasing.
We’ve been fortunate enough in North America to have had a progressive
movement which brought about a dramatic change in the rights and working conditions of labourers (although some are actively attempting to dismantle
those gains currently).
While we’ve achieved these gains for labourers at home, it is essential that we remain vigilant in the fight against exploitation abroad.
It is disheartening and disgusting to think that while we have great safety standards here, the majority of our purchases come from countries that do not. Perhaps just as globalization tends to outsource jobs, this is simply outsourcing risk.
Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.