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5 Things to Read About the Tragic Bangladeshi Garment Factory Fire

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On April 24, a fire broke out at garment factory center Rena Plaza, in Savar, a town on the outskirts of Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. The most recent count puts the death toll at 377 which, according to TIME, makes it "almost certainly the worst accident in the history of the garment industry," though incidents such as this one are hardly rare: in the region surrounding Dhaka alone, there have been over 700 factory deaths in the last decade. Due to a complicated system of subcontracting, there's very little transparency about which companies sourced items from factories located in Rena Plaza, however, both British retailer Primark and Canadian brand Joe Fresh, owned by Loblaw, have acknowledged working with Rena Plaza factories and pledge to compensate victims and families affected by the tragedy. Spanish label Mango and American company JCPenney have also admitted they have manufacturing ties to the factories. Though United Colors of Benetton shirts were photographed at the accident site (by news agency AFP), the Italian brand later denied ties to Rena Plaza factories. The severity of this accident has led to widespread media coverage, with many calling for stricter labor standards regulation at overseas factories and asking consumers to rethink their dependence on fast fashion.

Some recommended reading:

Fast, Cheap, Dead: Shopping and the Bangladesh Factory Collapse (TIME)
"International retailers can do more to advocate safer standards at textile factories that manufacture their wares, in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Customers can do their part by putting a little pressure on their favorite brands, though that would require placing as much value on the cost of a life as you might on the cost of a T-shirt."

Factory Collapse Spurs Concern Only If $6 Bikinis Stay (Bloomberg)
"The shift to Bangladesh has created an $18 billion manufacturing industry, yet one that is marred by factories with poor electrical wiring, an insufficient number of exits and little firefighting equipment. More than 1,000 Bangladesh garment workers have died in fires and other disasters since 2005, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group in Washington. A November fire at a factory making clothes for companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. killed 112 people. 
… 
'They could probably afford to invest in their factories, but it’s a tough market and it’s very difficult to up prices,' Cavill said. 'The consumer may need to start getting used to higher prices.'”

Bangladesh Lacks Factory, Fire Inspectors For Huge Industry (NPR)
"Bangladesh has the lowest wages in the world, $37 a month, and their minimum wage is raised only every three years to the point where even some of the global brands call out and say, we need to raise the minimum wage sooner. What's worse than the minimum wage is the fact that workers aren't able to speak up and negotiate for better terms. So in 2010, the last time workers pushed for a raise in the minimum wage, they were holding protests and marches, and a lot of the people who were organizing workers were arrested and put in jail and tortured."

"And one of those worker-organizers was killed last year, Aminul Islam, and his body was found with signs of torture. And the workers at Rana Plaza knew there were cracks in the wall. The bank workers in the same complex were sent home. But the factory workers, the garment factory workers went into work because the, you know, granted the building owner told the factory owners it was safe to go in. But the factory owners are under a huge amount of pressure to keep open, to keep making their deadlines."

Poor countries can keep workers safe and still escape poverty (The Washington Post)
"The competition is so fierce that there is a collective action problem where the owners aren’t willing to bear even the smallest costs. There’s also a collective action problem on the other side, with the buyers, who are looking for the cheapest possible price for the product and aren’t willing to raise that price a bit if their competitors aren’t. It feeds into a vicious cycle. That’s why I think you need some kind of external intervention in terms of unions, technical assistance for a stronger inspectorate, a stronger ILO, as, on their own, the companies aren’t going to be able to overcome that competitive collective action problem."

Bangladesh factory collapse: Who really pays for our cheap clothes? (CNN)
"Business must stop just holding up its hands to say: 'It is not our fault — they bought it.' The responsibility for ensuring that a product was made with human rights in mind has to fall somewhere, and the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights says that it falls jointly to states and mass corporate businesses to 'protect, respect and remedy' human rights.
In short, the brands, not the consumer, are the ones who must take responsibility for the endemic problems that this industry faces."

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