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Tazreen factory fire
November 25, 2012 7:07 AM   Subscribe

At least 112 workers died in Tazreen garments factory fire in Bangladesh. The reasons of the fire are the subject of investigation, but the firefighters put the blame for the tragedy on the lack of fire exits. Since 2006, over 500 garment factory workers died in Bangladesh fires caused often by poor safety standards and shoddy electrical installations. The garments made in the Tazreen factory were sold by C&A, among others. Clothing makes up 80 percent of the country's $24 billion in annual exports.
Last year saw the 100th anniversary of another such tragedy.
posted by hat_eater (31 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Senseless, and preventable too...but not at the prices we demand.
posted by threeants at 7:23 AM on November 25, 2012


Just a heads-up, I think you might want to fix your first link.

And yeah, this is horrifying. A reminder that our response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire wasn't to prevent it from recurring but rather to make sure it happened where buyers wouldn't know/care about it as much. Sickening.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:37 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


There exists this rather tragic Wikipedia category: Fire disasters involving barricaded escape routes.
posted by dhartung at 7:45 AM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


A reminder that our response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire wasn't to prevent it from recurring but rather to make sure it happened where buyers wouldn't know/care about it as much.

That seems to yadda-yadda-yadda over a whole lot of history. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire was in 1911. America had a thriving rag trade for a long, long time after that, and one that was, in fact, heavily regulated in terms of municipal and state fire codes designed to prevent another such tragedy.
posted by yoink at 8:12 AM on November 25, 2012 [17 favorites]


I dislike it when people use poverty as an excuse to set up horrendous working conditions for people who are poor and therefore being "helped" by sweatshop labor.

A lot of laws we have in the states regulating housing and working condition could have been argued against for the same reasons. Clearly, prior to the sweatshops existing, people were surviving over generations despite the harships and suffering. When people are in a lot of suffering, it's harder to decide that a full belly today for the price of... risk of death or future cancer or other diseases from poor working conditions is something to skip. Our instincts kick in and access to food and survival resources will cause people to loosen priorities regarding future risk assesment.

I know a lot of people who identify as "poor" who make salary wages, own a home (which they could try to sell if needed), two cars, have a dual income earning home and claim they therefore must buy sweatshop labor products in order to live.

These are largely NOT survival products. They might be required because the "modern world" is set up to expect people will have these items, but people don't have to buy a toaster made in china. People don't actually NEED toasters at all. People don't NEED a TV or computer or 20 different outfits or 6 pairs of shoes or cell phone or car or a fancy set of matching dishes or a coffee maker.... These things are nice if we can find them ethically made, but a lot of people COULD buy more ethically if they made it a priority.

We've butchered the meaning of the word "need" to justify contributing to these kinds of deaths with our money. I'm not saying we need to shame people who mess up at this-- most all of us in first world nations have messed up at this--- but I wish the goal post of expected behavior, when able, would really change even for lower income people. I respect that people who don't do this FEEL that they can't do any better than they are and they know their reasons better than I do. I know my reasons for the times I haven't felt able to make better purchasing decisions-- I just wish that people wouldn't defend sweatshop labor as a "necessary evil" when in truth if enough of us did better when able we really could potentially change this. What's more, I think regulating these kinds of things on a government level would be fine with me.
posted by xarnop at 8:15 AM on November 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


A document posted on the company’s Web site showed that an “ethical sourcing” official for Walmart flagged “violations and/or conditions which were deemed to be high risk” at the factory in May 2011, though it did not specify the nature of the infractions. The notice said that the factory had been given an “orange” grade and that any factories given three such assessments in two years from their last audit would not receive any orders from Walmart for one year.

But those Black Friday sales were definitely worth it, I'm sure.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:18 AM on November 25, 2012


I find it fascinating that the response this early in this thread places the onus of changing Bangladeshi safety and permitting laws onto US consumers.

The response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was that the people living in the society in which it happened rose up and demanded that regulations be put in place to increase worker safety.

The question I end up asking, and have asked before, is will the Bangladeshis rise up and demand similar changes to their laws? That is how change will be affected.
posted by hippybear at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why fires in south Asia kill more than blazes elsewhere
posted by Postroad at 8:49 AM on November 25, 2012


Senseless, and preventable too...but not at the prices we demand.

Prices AND profit margins for the owners.
posted by DU at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hippybear raises a good point, unfortunately the factory owners and consumers take advantage wherever possible. Is Bangladesh seeing strikes as we've seen in Shenzhen, China?
posted by arcticseal at 9:06 AM on November 25, 2012


threeants writes "Senseless, and preventable too...but not at the prices we demand."

Proper fire exits (in this case an external stair case) would add essentially zero to the cost of a shirt or pair of pants produced in this facility.
posted by Mitheral at 9:13 AM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, there was the Dhaka strike back in 2006? Does that count?
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:14 AM on November 25, 2012


I'd say that counts. Looks like the government at the time cared more about lost revenue than workers rights though.
posted by arcticseal at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2012


The question I end up asking, and have asked before, is will the Bangladeshis rise up and demand similar changes to their laws? That is how change will be affected.

I don't know, but they likely have more to lose since multinational companies will just source their manufacturing elsewhere if safety regulations make it too expensive in Bangladesh. In 1911, workers weren't as worried about outsourcing since it was probably more expensive due to transport costs, among other reasons.
posted by desjardins at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hard to imagine having "more to lose" than the lives of over 100 people, but if that's how you see it...
posted by hippybear at 10:58 AM on November 25, 2012


The question I end up asking, and have asked before, is will the Bangladeshis rise up and demand similar changes to their laws? That is how change will be affected.

Appears that there have been demonstrations and they have been violently quashed.

There is a systemic problem that goes beyond the "just rise up" solutions proposed by westerners. We rose up, demanded labor rights and safety, and saw our blue collar cities depopulated and jobs shipped to places where capital did not have to deal with such niceties. Labor is plentiful - that is true and is becoming truer, as the peasants of the third world continue to pour into cities. It starts with enclosure - loss of right to land, coupled with (of course) industrial agriculture, but also loss of agricultural land to other uses, especially oil/mining/natural gas/dams. The cities fill with labor, cheap labor.

And you have systemic global inequity. Immanuel Wallerstein called this world systems theory - you cannot separate the global from the national. You cannot even make sense of the national without the global. We (westerners) can pat ourselves on the backs for labor rights and for happy unions that no longer exist as we continue to pour our money into corporations that profit from endless atrocities. To be sure: first world countries profit from the labor of third world countries as surely as the rich of London profited from the labor of children in the cotton factories of Manchester.

But it is not only that we profit: we require this labor to live the way we do. We didn't get rid of child labor, or unsafe labor, or union busting: we moved it overseas.

So - yes - rise up, Bangladeshis. And we'll find a cheaper source of labor around the corner. This is the logic of what we have created. The rulers and their police force in Bangladesh understand this, and they enforce our logic.
posted by blueberry sushi at 10:59 AM on November 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


[Fixed first link.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 AM on November 25, 2012


The expectations that we have for clothing prices now are insane (and totally unprecedented). It feels like people are more willing than ever before to spend money on transient experiences, like restaurant meals or good wine or artisanal cocktails, while at the same time becoming less and less willing to spend money on lasting physical goods like clothing. People who don't think twice about spending $100 on dinner and drinks for a couple people brag about how their pants cost $19.99 at H&M. It seems like a very incoherent way of valuing things to me.

Western countries need to implement import tariffs and outright bans that are not based on country of origin but on working conditions and pay throughout the production chain. It should not be legal to sell clothing in the US that is made in deathtrap factories like this.
posted by enn at 11:34 AM on November 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


The expectations that we have for clothing prices now are insane (and totally unprecedented).

Every time I see an Old Navy / Gap / Banana Republic ad on television, I say out loud "sweatshop clothing at sweatshop prices!". Sometimes there are people within earshot. Their reaction to my statement is usually quite telling.
posted by hippybear at 11:40 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hard to imagine having "more to lose" than the lives of over 100 people

If the calculus is "increased risk of injury or death at job, but able to eat" vs. "no job, unable to feed self or family, might get injured or die in protest," I bet a lot of people would still choose #1.

But it's not a hypothetical - we can see that in reality, many people are choosing #1 since apparently nothing has changed after the 2006 fire.
posted by desjardins at 11:46 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every time I see an Old Navy / Gap / Banana Republic ad on television, I say out loud "sweatshop clothing at sweatshop prices!".

You're typing on a computer, tablet or phone, right? Where do you think it was made? Where did the parts come from? No one's hands are clean.
posted by desjardins at 11:48 AM on November 25, 2012


If you're trying to point out hypocrisy on my part because I'm using a device made outside of the US in order to post to MetaFilter, that's fine. I pay a fine premium for my devices, and the company I buy from doesn't cater to the drive to "lowest price always" mentality.

There's a huge gap between the computer I buy, regularly priced clothing, and the kind of deals Old Navy advertises especially during this time of year. "Get this new jacket/skirt/shirt/whatever for only $8!" Yeah... that's not sweatshop pricing? Pull the other one.
posted by hippybear at 11:54 AM on November 25, 2012


So - yes - rise up, Bangladeshis. And we'll find a cheaper source of labor around the corner. This is the logic of what we have created. The rulers and their police force in Bangladesh understand this, and they enforce our logic.

This is rubbish, and it's the same lie that management has been trying to con the labour movement with since the 19th century: "if you agitate for better wages and conditions, we'll just close our factories and move elsewhere, so don't even bother".

The labour movement has shown repeatedly that incremental improvements to wages and conditions are possible without destroying local industry or scaring off capital. Something as relatively cheap as enforcing proper fire regulations is not going to destroy Bangladesh's garment industry.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:34 PM on November 25, 2012


Something as relatively cheap as enforcing proper fire regulations is not going to destroy Bangladesh's garment industry.

Yes, indeed. The responses in this thread seem to me to miss the point on one side or the other of the issue. Fire regulations are not a noticeable added expense. Heck, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory already had fire exits--they were just locked. It is absurd to suggest that proper regulation and enforcement of such absolutely basic safety matters would price Bangladeshi clothing off the market--even the absolute rock bottom of the market, like Walmart.

On the other hand, that's not to say that the sorry state of international trade plays no part here; the lax governmental oversight and weak regulatory regimes in places like Bangladesh are part of what make them attractive to multinational corporations like Walmart (although it also adds costs--bribery, fraud, PR disasters like this fire etc. for example). So there is certainly a "big picture" issue that relates to Walmart etc., but not quite the "oh my God, we can't pay for fire exits!" one that seems to be coming up here.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Senseless, and preventable too...but not at the prices we demand.

I think the issue is a lot more complicated than this. As someone mentioned upthread, adding fire escapes would add very little to the overhead of the operation. Although Walmart flagged the factory, it's shameful they continued to purchase from the factory. Perhaps this will change things.

However, there has got to be a cultural explanation for this - I'm assuming that proper safety procedures are just not top-of-mind for Bangladeshis.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:41 PM on November 25, 2012


It seems self-evident that proper fire escapes would have cost, whatever the specific price, more than the owners were willing to pay. It doesn't seem at all evident to me that making a change to the physical infrastructure of a Bangladeshi sweatshop would represent only a marginal cost.

there has got to be a cultural explanation for this - I'm assuming that proper safety procedures are just not top-of-mind for Bangladeshis.

This is testable (by someone more knowledgeable about Bangladesh than I). Would a similar fire in a Dhaka investment bank or high government office result in 200 people dying? I'm guessing not.
posted by threeants at 8:24 PM on November 25, 2012


Bangladesh has one of the most militant and courageous labour movements in Asia (just check through Labourstart's news archive for starters), the textile sector not least, so it is ridiculous to even suggest this stems from any lack of awareness or opposition among local people to the criminal conditions that killed these workers.
posted by Abiezer at 12:16 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's naive to assume that the direct cost of installing fire doors or whatever is the only reason that there were no fire exits an this factory. Preventing employees from leaving except at specific times and through specific exits is a longstanding practice among nastier employers of low-wage workers as a tool of discipline. Walmart is well-known, for example, for locking in stockroom workers on their overnight shifts. It certainly isn't doing so because it can't afford doors. As pointed out above, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory had fire doors that were locked "to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks." It's not that the cost of installing a fire exit would raise the cost that we pay for these clothes; it's that treating workers like adults who are allowed to move around at their own discretion, and the entirely different power relations that would have to apply to make such a situation possible, would mean generally less exploited workers and less ridiculously low prices.
posted by enn at 6:37 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing that upsets me the most about this is that boycotting the Bangladeshi garment industry does precisely nothing to improve conditions for its mostly female workforce.

Given that Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country in an era of fundamentalism and poised to become a major economic force in the 21st century (assuming it can defend itself against rising sea levels) as ethical customers and trading partners we need to offer them better incentives to up their game, rather than simply refusing to buy their product.

I think the only way to do this is to hold the big retailers to account. So yes, we do have a responsibility, but the only realistic outcome of not buying clothing from Bangladesh is that we get to feel better about ourselves.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 1:00 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disagree. Holding the retailers/market accountable requires EXACTLY THAT-- large quantities of people willing to boycott products made in these conditions. It's because so many people think like you do that, of course ONE individual avoiding those products can do very little. It's a way of thinking that reduces the power people actually do have if they actually work together towards a goal, rather than defeating themselves before eventrying anything because it's all hopeless and we're powerless. True, small amount of power. But if enough of us used it, there's nothing small about it.
posted by xarnop at 1:53 PM on November 26, 2012


Let me put it another way. Like many other people, I've been reading labels and avoiding Bangladeshi textile products for years, and crap like this still happens. Boycotts haven't worked and for some reason retailers still haven't caught on to what a major selling point this is for some of us.

It wasn't so very long ago that fair trade coffee was all but undrinkable. Now I can find premium coffee carrying fair trade certifications from regular supermarket brands, because fair trade is a win for everyone. That's progress.

I want to be able to support development in the area by contributing to the local economy rather than giving to charity. If I saw more positive steps by retailers operating in the area towards ensuring wages and safety and supporting things like women's education schemes, I'd certainly think about buying those products again.

Enough of the sticks already, it's time for some carrots.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:56 AM on November 27, 2012


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