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Worker fatalities accumulate in Bangladesh garment industry

Just five months after a Bangladesh garment factory fire killed 112 workers, another garment factory in the region collapsed, taking the lives of 87 workers with it. Many more workers were trapped beneath the rubble of the eight-story building.

Reuters reported even worse carnage: nearly 100 workers killed and more than 1,000 injured.  

Among the businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd., which make clothing for brands including Benetton, The Children’s Place and Dress Barn, ABC News reported. Workers said they didn’t know what specific clothing brands were being produced in the building because labels are attached after the products are finished.

Most of the garment factory workers are women.

Workers had said they hesitated to go to work the day of the collapse because the building had developed such severe cracks the previous day that it had been reported on local news channels. Yet, factory managers assured the workers that no safety problem existed, so workers filed inside. Police officials, on the other hand, said that factory owners ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building.  

This disaster once again underscores the unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry. Additionally, wages as low as $38.50 a month have helped propel the country to no. 2 in the ranks of apparel exporters, trailing only China, Reuters reports.  

At National COSH’s Worker Safety and Health Policy Summit in October 2012 in San Francisco, Sanjiv Pandita of the Asia Monitor Resource Center said, “We have a ” Triangle fire” nearly every month in Asia.” And just a couple weeks later, another fire that killed almost the exact same number of people as the Triangle fire happens again.

“In response to this weekend’s fatal fire in Bangladesh, Pandita said, “It is really bad. We had two major fires in a period of just three months, and more than 300 workers have died. They seem to be worse than the Kader fire in 2003. It seems we are really going backwards in Asia.”

While companies in Bangladesh certainly must improve conditions in their factories to prevent these fires, those of us stateside must take responsibility, as well.

“Companies that buy from these suppliers- like Benetton, Dress Bard, the Children’s Place, Tommy Hilfiger, GAP, and Wal-Mart- need to be held accountable for ensuring that their producers have safe conditions,” said Tom O” Connor, executive director of National COSH. “These companies should use their buying power to demand better conditions for the workers who make the products they sell.”