While the most prominent US “Black Friday” headlines might have celebrated which electronic gadget is most popular this year (iPads), trumpeted record-breaking sales ($59 billion), or reported new appalling behavior by American shoppers (brawling over new shoes), there was one international headline that should have received much more attention — the fatal Bangladesh garment factory fire that killed more than 100 people.
As with most reports of factory fires, many casualties could have been avoided, if simple precautionary measures had been taken at the factory. According to the New York Times:
Experts say many of the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women. Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
The Clean Clothes Campaign goes on to name additional international brands implicated:
The killed and injured workers were producing garments for international clothing brands when their factory, Tazreen Fashions, went up in flames. According to their website Tazreen produced for a host of well known brand names including C&A, Carrefour, KIK and Walmart. The Clean Clothes Campaign believes that international brands have shown ongoing negligence in failing to address the safety issues highlighted by previous fires, and that this leaves them with responsibility for yet another tragic loss of life.
And the International Labor Rights Forum puts the deaths in context and calls for greater fire safety in Bangladeshi factories:
According to ILRF research, since 2005 over 700 garment workers have died as a result of unsafe buildings in Bangladesh. The data indicate a trend that brands can no longer ignore. In March 2012, PVH Corp. (owner of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen, IZOD, ARROW, G.H. Bass, and Eagle) signed an agreement with Bangladeshi unions, international unions, ILRF and other labor rights groups to develop a fire safety program to prevent future deaths in Bangladesh’s garment industry. … Other brands implicated in large, deadly factory fires in 2010 – including H&M, Gap, JCPenney, Target, Abercrombie, Kohl’s and Carter’s – have also been invited to join the agreement.
As long as US retailers race to the bottom to find the cheapest possible labor for their products, no matter what corners get cut, such tragedies will only continue.
Let us know in the comments how you plan to avoid sweatshop retailers for the holidays…