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Triangle Repeated in Bangladesh

[ 25 ] November 26, 2012 |

Within American labor history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is a touchstone moment. That tragedy led directly to a spate of workplace safety laws and building regulations. In the longer term, it helped spur the union movement that changed the lives of the American working class.

Of course, capitalists never accepted these changes. The movement to globalize industrial production was an explicit choice by corporations to avoid the workplace and environmental regulations that increasing made work and life safe and dignified in the United States. Such regulations might have improved American lives, but they also slightly cut into corporate profits. And with elephants ever more rare, the price of ivory backscratchers aren’t going down.

And thus we see Bangladesh suffer its own Triangle Fire. A clothing factory caught on fire this weekend near Dhaka, killing at least 117 workers. Like at Triangle, most of the dead workers are women. Like at Triangle, an unsafe building choked with highly flammable materials did not have proper safety equipment or fire exits. Like at Triangle, desperate women chose to jump to their deaths rather than burn.

Of course, no corporations will be held directly liable–by outsourcing production, they exact profits and eschew responsibility. Wal-Mart is one of the corporations that contract out with the clothing supplier, but they are refusing to confirm this. Even better for capitalists is that Bangladesh is far away. It will be in the news for a couple of days and then disappear except for the NGOs and labor writers that scream about this to tiny audiences. All things return to normal for global capitalism. And for us.

Comments (25)

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  1. Bill Murray says:

    This fire is also very reminiscent of the Kader Toy Factory Fire from 1993, which was nigh completely ignored outside Thailand

    The factory was poorly designed and built. Fire exits drawn in the building plans were not in fact constructed, and the existing external doors were locked. Furthermore, the building was reinforced with un-insulated steel girders which quickly weakened and collapsed when heated by the flames.

    At about 4 PM on May 10, 1993, a small fire was discovered on the first floor of part of the E-shaped building. Workers, located in the upper floors, were instructed to keep working wherein because they were told the fire was said to be minor. The fire alarm in this building did not sound. This part of the building was dedicated to the storage of finished products and the fire spread quickly. Other parts of the factory were full of raw materials which also burned very fast.

    Workers in the first building who tried to escape found the ground floor exit doors locked, and the stairwells soon collapsed. Many workers jumped from the second-, third-, and fourth-floor windows in order to escape the flames, resulting in severe injuries or death. Local security guards attempted unsuccessfully to put out the flames, and a call was made at 4:21 PM to the local Nakhon Pathom fire department.

    Firefighters arrived at the factory at about 4:40 PM, to find Building One nearly ready to collapse. The fire spread extremely quickly because of the presence of the combustible plastics and fabrics, and reportedly it took less than an hour (only 53 minutes) for Building One to collapse from the time the local police called the fire brigade until 5:14 PM.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kader_Toy_Factory_fire

  2. DrDick says:

    Capitalists aggressively search out opportunities where they can literally kill off their employees and customers without repercussions. The greatest economic system in the world!

  3. greylocks says:

    I can’t wait for the libertarian take on this.

    Although I expect it will be nothing more than the soothing chirping of crickets.

  4. Frankly says:

    Lets be honest here people. As a group, a nation, what have you we don’t care about this fire or the one before that or the one before that or the one before that. Not as long as we get our crap for cheap. This one will be forgotten by next weekend.

    Should the workers in one of these countrys actually organize and get protections in place there are still 139 worse places that won’t have them – say good-bye to those jobs that offer protection.

  5. Observer says:

    The movement to globalize industrial production was an explicit choice by corporations to avoid the workplace and environmental regulations that increasing made work and life safe and dignified in the United States.

    This shows a complete lack of understanding of how the marketplace works. And in your defense, why should anyone expect academics to really know much about the markets anyway?

    Each actor makes a decision and in theses cases, that decision was because the foreign country had a manufactiring comparative advantage over the US for whatever reason. It didn’t matter what the reason was. And it shouldn’t. These companies are not the world’s policemen. They are charged with making their businesses efficient and that’s what they do.

    But they didn’t rub their hands together in an evil fashion, twist their mustaches like Snidely Whiplash in an express desire to circumvent workplace and environmental regulations and then laugh like hyenas about it.

    I think you’re projecting waaaaaay…..too much!

    • Malaclypse says:

      Reification – you’re soaking in it.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      You really can’t parody libertarians. They are too good at doing it themselves.

      • DrDick says:

        Libertarianism is a stupid person’s parody of smart people.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        Erik, the key is to not think of the fire as an unspeakable human tragedy, but as signaling. It provided valuable information, such that dirt-poor Bangladeshi girls now know that you don’t want to go work at the factory that burned down…you go to work for the factory down the road, the one that hasn’t burned down yet. The factory that burned down won’t find anyone to replace the 100+ workers who were scorched to a crisp, while the factory that hasn’t burned down yet will find all the labor it needs. And voilà! — the self-correcting market has self-corrected once again, without the oppressive, deadening hand of government do-gooders getting in the way.

    • Anonymous says:

      Right. There is no connection between cutting manufacturing costs on an item as much as possible and then seeing the same manufacturer not spend money on things that would make for a safer workplace, especially when labor is cheap and replaceable.

    • Anonymous says:

      that’s pretty much exactly what they do,

      But they didn’t rub their hands together in an evil fashion, twist their mustaches like Snidely Whiplash in an express desire to circumvent workplace and environmental regulations and then laugh like hyenas about it.

      for you to assert otherwise shows either a stunning lack of knowledge about how business works or, more likely, you’re simply an obvious apologist for it. businesses search the world over for the places with the least regulation, of any kind, and the most corrupt governments (see: bangladesh), to re-locate their factories or simply outsource the jobs to existing factories in those countries. they literally celebrate finding these places, with parties and bonuses.

      clearly, you have no effing clue what you’re talking about.

    • This shows a complete lack of understanding of how the marketplace works.

      Actually, you just restated his point in nicer-sounding language. I don’t think you even realize that.

  6. cpinva says:

    oops, hadn’t realized my nic was off. that anonymous up there is me.

  7. J R in WV says:

    At the end of your article you say “All things return to normal for global capitalism. And for us. ”

    I disagree. I don’t buy “label” clothing when I can avoid it. I haven’t been in a Walmart for years, and don’t plan to begin to patronize them at any time in the future.

    I try to find Made in America products, they usually have real guarantees, will still be in business if their product fails during the period of the guarantee.

    There are a number of locally owned hardware stores in my area, even lumber yards which will deliver building material which will be straight to the eye and sturdy in construction.

    My friends mostly are the same – we’re all trying to maintain America as a place where things worth having are made.

    Shame everyone isn’t, why don’t you guys push for that too? It’s quite a bit easier to complain about off-shoring, but more rewarding to do something about it, even if it’s just your little piece of the world.

    • Left_Wing_Fox says:

      Shame everyone isn’t, why don’t you guys push for that too?

      ‘Cause it doesn’t work. This is a structural problem.

      Consumers, especially consumers on a budget, are drawn to cheap goods. As long as it is legal and profitable for a company to exploit workers, ruin the environment, or drain money out of local economies, the vast majority will do so. Morality only holds on in such a system as long as it’s profitable. Similarly, short term profit spikes win out over long term sustainable margins.

      This is why the focus has to be on setting ground rules in a system, to ensure renewable and sustainable resources are more profitable than renewable ones, to reduce the push for poverty-wage economies, and the make sure practices like unsafe factories are illegal.

      And yes, where possible, I buy Canadian and local. This is getting so much harder because trade policies make chinese factories so much more profitable than domestic ones. I’m down to two local stores that sell domestic clothing: one has had the number of canadian brands reduce drastically in the past 4 years, the other has been bought out by Target, and will be closed in a few months, leaving Walmart as the only source for bargain child clothing in town.

  8. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    *more profitable than non-renewable ones

  9. [...] strike, we owe it to ourselves to do something about how much those disasters cost.Erik Loomis: “Triangle Repeated in Bangladesh”The movement to globalize industrial production was an explicit choice by corporations to avoid the [...]

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