Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tazreen Garment Fire

 Shima Akhter Pakh, a worker who survived the fire.
This picture is by Khaled Hassan.

112 people were killed in November in a fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Ashulia, Bangladesh.

Jim Yardley has an article about the fire in Thursday's Times (here).

This is an extremely sad article. It makes me think about blame and responsibility. There is direct blame (insufficient safety standards), and then there's the indirect blame that we all share as part of a consumption-first society.

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The workers at the factory made clothing for Sears, Wal-Mart, and C&A (a European chain), among others.  These businesses are claiming that the factory was not authorized to produce the clothes, but Yardley implies that there is a "see no evil, hear no evil" arrangement between the western chains and the local middlemen who contract with the factories:
The global apparel industry aspires to operate with accountability that extends from distant factories to retail stores. Big brands demand that factories be inspected by accredited auditing firms so that the brands can control quality and understand how, where and by whom their goods are made. If a factory does not pass muster, it is not supposed to get orders from Western customers. Tazreen Fashions was one of many clothing factories that exist on the margins of this system. Factory bosses had been faulted for violations during inspections conducted on behalf of Walmart and at thebehest of the Business Social Compliance Initiative, a European organization. Yet Tazreen Fashions received orders anyway, slipping through the gaps in the system by delivering the low costs and quick turnarounds that buyers — and consumers — demand.
Some of the workers tried to escape when the fire alarms first sounded, but they were told by managers that the alarms were only being tested.

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There are approximately 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, and it is the second-largest apparel exporter in the world (behind China).  The government has increased safety inspections since the Tazreen factory, and at least 1/3 of the factories do not have sufficient fire protections.

564. What percentage of my clothes were made in Bangladesh?

565. Should I be doing things to be more responsible in deciding what to buy? Do I have enough energy to work on this?

566. Which societies/countries do the best job of prioritizing health and safety over cheap consumption?  Which societies do the worst?

This picture of the factory is by Andrew Biraj.

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