Tragedy struck again in Bangladesh this morning when a building that housed several garment factories collapsed, killing at least 194 people, mostly garment workers, injuring hundreds of others and trapping an unknown number of people in the rubble. A number of shops were also in the building.
Since 2006, more than 600 garment workers—mostly young women—have been killed in preventable factory fires in Bangladesh. In November, a fire killed at least 112 workers at the Tazreen Fashion factory that turned out clothing for Walmart, Sears, the Gap and other major retailers.
The AFL-CIO released a report Tuesday that showed most of the major international organizations that certify working and safety conditions in the less-developed nations where most of the global garment manufacturing takes place receive major funding from the same corporations seeking their “seal of approval.” In many cases such certifications follow cursory—if any—inspections and ignore major safety and health violations.
In this morning’s disaster, near the capital of Dhaka, it is unclear if WRAP or any of the other groups, funded by so-called Corporate Social Responsibility programs in what the AFL-CIO report calls a system of “privatized regulation,” had inspected and deemed safe any of the factories housed in the eight-story building.
But The New York Times reports that the collapse:
Is likely to again raise questions about work conditions in Bangladesh: workers told Bangladeshi news outlets that supervisors had ordered them to attend work on Wednesday, even though cracks were discovered in the building on Tuesday.
Alonzo Suson, AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center country program director in Bangladesh, says in a statement:
The status quo cannot be that workers have to face death just to try to feed their families. How many more workers have to die before the government, the manufacturers and the companies that source from Bangladesh start to obey the law and respect international labor standards?
The order by supervisors for workers to enter a dangerous situation not only illustrates the lack of workers’ rights in nations such as Bangladesh, where global corporations locate to or contract much of their manufacturing, but is an eerie echo of the Tazreen Fashion tragedy.
Sumi Abedin, a survivor of that fire, told AFL-CIO Now in an interview last week that a co-worker had sounded the alarm that there was a fire in the building, but “[t]he factory manager told us there was no fire, that it was a lie and told us to go back to work.”
Not long afterward, 112 were dead and Abedin had leapt for the fourth floor to escape the flames.