Perhaps the images no longer have the power to shock. Charred bodies and wailing families appear in the news with grim frequency, giving the numbing impression that industrial fires are simply a necessary toll for poor nations on the road to “development.” The latest factory inferno in South Asia should prompt us to ask why this keeps happening, but once again, challenges from local and international labor advocates are being dodged by the global apparel-manufacturing machine.
The fire this weekend at the Tazreen factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 110 of the 1,000-plus workers, bears the stamp of some of the world’s most iconic fashion labels. According to labor advocates, the Western brands linked to the factory included Disney, Sears, Dickies, Sean Combs’s Enyce and Walmart’s Faded Glory.
According to initial reports, the workplace was fraught with fire-safety issues, including the lack of a viable road for rescue workers to approach the facility and a lack of safety exits. Before workers could flee, some managers reportedly “stopped them running to safety after the fire alarm had gone off.”
Just about everyone who could be held responsible has a story to deflect the blame, and some are even implicating workers.
Amid international outcry and local street protests in response to the fire, Bangladeshi authorities suggested that the incident was not a product of an industrial accident such as faulty wiring, but sabotage, pointing to another investigation of fires reportedly started by workers in a nearby factory. (Notably, Bangladesh’s garment industry is a bulwark of the country’s low-wage economy, employing about 3 million people.) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina argued the Tazreen fire also appears to be the result of arson, perhaps tied to local political conflicts—a claim echoed by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. According to Hasina, the disaster ”was not an accident, (it was) planned. The incident takes place when it is the time for buyers to come and sign contracts.” Read the rest of this entry →