Editorial: Bangladesh fire hits closer to home than Americans might think
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 20:02
Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world. Imagine taking everyone in Russia (the largest country in area), squeezing them into a space no bigger than Illinois, and adding nine million more. That’s Bangladesh. It’s overcrowded, polarized, and poor. It’s an industrializing nation that makes a lot of the clothes you probably can find in your closet. After China, Bangladesh is the world’s biggest clothing exporter. With $24 billion of exports, Bangladeshi garments make up 80% of that total (by comparison the United States has 1.5 trillion dollars of exports). Think about all of that when you read the next paragraph.
On January 26, a fire broke out in a garment factory in Dhaka (the capital city) killing at least six and injuring ten other people. This comes just two months after the worst factory fire in Bengali history, which killed 112 workers.
In the wake of so many textile industry fires, questions are being asked about Bengali labor practices. For example, the Mohammadpur building (where the fire began) was illegally built in the first place. In Dhaka’s garment districts, locked doors and unenforced safety regulations are common. Since 2006, around 700 people have been killed in fires related to the garment industry.
This incident is tragically reminiscent of the Triangle Waist Shirt factory fire that happened in New York City on March 25, 1911. In that Dhaka-esque version of New York City, it was not only common to lock doors, but to also chain women (most workers in the industry were, and still are women) to their workstations to cut down on wasted time.
The New York fire was the beginning of a new era of safety regulations and enforcement that cut down on industry-related deaths since then. Look closely and you’ll notice that fire doors exist in any and all commercial and government buildings (and they’re never locked).
You probably already know that safety regulations in industrializing nations are sub-par. This isn’t an American issue; we can’t influence safety regulations in Bangladesh. But that number at the top of the page? $24 billion is your money. Look around the room you’re in. Some of those clothes passed through Mohammadpur. And some of the girls that died in these fires probably touched them. Wal-Mart, Target, and other cost-saving super stores support regulation-liberal factories like this. Consumer behavior (i.e. our shopping behavior) can influence the way those companies, and those governments, do business.