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103 years later: profits are STILL more important than people

triangle_shirtwaist

Cartoon refers to the Triangle fire and depicts a woman weeping over a grave, and asks the reader: "How soon will they be all forgotten?"Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, when 146 garment workers were trapped behind locked doors.  Some of the young women burned to death; others died of smoke inhalation; still others jumped out of windows to certain death.

The good news is: this year even some mainstream media outlets are remembering the anniversary.

The bad news is: workers are still dying on the jobBangladeshChina … Pakistan … Nigeria… Italy

… even, still, here in the United States.  About 150 American workers die each day from workplace accidents or occupational illness.  (Yes, you did read that right: 150 each day.  But since they don’t die in the same place, from the same thing, these deaths don’t make the headlines.)

When will we stop thinking of profit margins as more important than people?

[Be warned: this video is graphic and may be disturbing]

The Cost of Cheap Clothing

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

 

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

More than 100 people have died in a fire at a nine-story garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Most of the workers who died were on the first and second floors and were killed, fire officials said, because none of the exits opened to the outside.

Sound familiar?  About a century ago, 146 garment workers were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City.  [This video includes images of a 2010 fire in a different Bangladesh garment factory. Be warned the video is graphic and may be disturbing]

The Bangladesh factory that burned yesterday employed about 1,500 workers, making T-shirts, polo shorts and fleece jackets. It had sales of $35 million a year.

Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers’ Federation, said mid-level management of the garment factories are mostly concerned with how many clothes can be produced and forget the safety issues.

Bangladesh garment industry workers have been battling for union rights for years.  The fight is becoming increasingly violent. Just eight months ago, the “tortured body” of an organizer for the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity was found near the police station of a city outside Dhaka.

Read how the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire transformed American worksites here.

Read more about efforts to improve working conditions in Bangladesh here.

And when you are shopping this holiday season, think about the true cost of what you’re buying.  According to press reports and labor activists, the factory that burned yesterday makes clothing for Walmart, as well as other retailers.

 

 

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