On Wednesday, while a Bangladeshi survivor of last November’s Tazreen fire that killed 113 people was talking to a Seattle audience about the need for corporations to be held liable for safety violations, it happened again. That day, a factory housing dozens of garment manufacturers in Bangladesh collapsed outside of Dhaka. Since then the death toll has skyrocketed to more than 300 workers, with hundreds more still trapped in the rubble.
Could it be that the so-called convenience of economic globalization is collapsing, too?
Sumi Abedin survived the Tazreen fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory by jumping out a window, breaking an arm and a leg. The Tazreen factory manufactured clothes for a number of Western companies, including Wal-Mart Stores, Sears, Sean John and Disney.
Workers smelled smoke and tried to leave the building but they were told it was a false alarm and were sent back to their sewing machines. As the room filled with smoke, workers tried to escape but found doors and windows locked — apparently to prevent workers from stealing garments. Abedin said she jumped not to save her life but for another reason. “I wanted my family to be able to identify my dead body. If I had stayed there, it would have burned and they would not have been able to find me,” Abedin told a packed audience.
Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, is traveling with Abedin on a 12-state tour in the United States. They are demanding fair compensation from Wal-Mart and a legally binding agreement from manufacturers to ensure fire and building safety and worker rights. “This is a pattern of gross negligence on the part of multinational corporations,” Akter said. “They know what is happening, but they are not stopping it.”