It’s a mere four months until we hit the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City, the worst industrial accident in that city’s history. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers died in the fire, most of them women and many leaping from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors to their death because the exits were locked by management to discourage theft.
That tragic fire came immediately to mind when the New York Times reported that more than 20 garment workers died in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh on Tuesday (Dec. 14).
And these workers, too, were on the 9th and 10th floors of this high rise factory building. The death toll might have been even higher had it not been lunch hour. Some 5,000 people work in the 10-story factory building.
Also, some authorities are saying that many exits were closed, too. Again, reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. How ironic!
These workers were likely making pants for retailers like Wal-Mart and H & M. Some three million people work in Bangladesh garment factories making goods for the markets in the United States. The government there has set the minimum wage there for about $43 a month, just over a dollar a day. And many factories still aren’t meeting that level. Until recently, the minimum was under $30 a month.
As we Americans shop for the low-priced pants at Wal-Mart or other retailers, it’s wise to reflect upon the real price as represented in worker misery and poverty around the world.
It’s time, too, to let our law-makers know of the real need to pass laws to ensure foreign trade is fair and respects the need for manufacturing countries to adhere to fair labor standards and practices. Then, such laws, as well as those already on the books, need to be enforced. Ken Germanson, Dec. 15, 2010