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Rana Plaza 2: Worker Death Boogaloo

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In 2013, the Rana Plaza collapsed, killing 1,129 workers making your clothing. No one in America cared. American companies made sure nothing would change. European companies at least agreed to minor changes in workplace safety, but even that was quite limited. So it’s hardly surprising that death on the job would remain a central feature of life in Bangladesh.

A fire engulfed a food and beverage factory outside Bangladesh’s capital, killing at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door, fire officials said Friday.

The blaze began Thursday night at the five-story Hashem Foods Ltd. factory in Rupganj, just outside Dhaka, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police initially gave a toll of three dead, but then discovered piles of bodies on Friday afternoon after the fire was extinguished.

So far 52 bodies have been recovered, but the top two floors of the factory have yet to be searched, said Debasish Bardhan, deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense.

He said the main exit of the factory was locked from the inside and many of those who died were trapped.

Many workers jumped from the upper floors of the factory, and at least 26 suffered injuries, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.

This is a company that makes fruit drinks for export:

The factory that caught fire Thursday was subsidiary of Sajeeb Group, a Bangladeshi company that produces juice under Pakistan’s Lahore-based Shezan International Ltd., said Kazi Abdur Rahman, the group’s senior general manager for export.

According to the group’s website, the company exports its products to a number of countries including Australia, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bhutan, Nepal and nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Rahman told The Associated Press by phone that the company is fully compliant with international standards, but he was not certain whether the exit of the factory was locked. According to Bangladesh’s factory laws, a factory cannot lock its exit when workers are inside during production hours.

“We are a reputed company; we maintain rules,” he said. “What happened today is very sad. We regret it.”

This is the only thing the company actually regrets:

Abul Hashem, the owner of Hashem Foods, and four of his sons were among eight people detained on Saturday. Police say they all face murder charges.

Authorities said many of those who died were trapped inside the building because a main exit was locked.

Children were among the victims and a separate inquiry into the use of child labour has been launched.

Bangladesh labour minister Monnujan Sufian told AFP news agency that she had been to a hospital and spoken to survivors as young as 14.

“If child labour is proved, we will take action against the owner and the inspectors,” she said.

I will believe that these people will be convicted and then serve time when it happens and not a second before.

Once again, part of the solution to all of this has to be holding western companies accountable for their supply chains. This is by no means impossible. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. The big western companies already have a ton of control over their supply chains. They control for cost and they control for quality. They don’t control to make sure children aren’t dying because they don’t care. And they know that you really, in the end, don’t care that much either. In an era of capital mobility, it’s simply too easy for the big western companies to move their supply chains somewhere else for the affected nations to implement serious reforms, even if they wanted to (which in Bangladesh is highly questionable). The enforcement has to be on the buyer’s end. I’ve laid out some ideas around this in Out of Sight and then my further discussions of the Corporate Accountability Act idea in Dissent and Boston Review. These are by no means all the answers on how we can drink our mango drinks without killing child workers, but it’s a place to start and I urge everyone to make these issues of international trade a central part of your politics.

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