By Liana Foxvog and Judy Gearhart, International Labor Rights Forum
We solemnly remember the twenty-nine Bangladeshi workers who lost their lives in the That’s It Sportswear factory fire, which occurred one year ago yesterday. We also remember the more than four hundred other workers who have lost their lives in the past six years due to unsafe garment factories in Bangladesh. Sadly, just last week, two more workers perished and eleven were seriously injured in a stampede triggered by panic after a boiler explosion.
On December 14, 2010, a fire broke out due to a short-circuit in the unsafe, ten-story sweatshop. Key exits were blocked and constructions on the roof prevented helicopter landing. Twenty-nine workers were killed: most burned alive, others died by suffocation, and some jumped to their death. Nine more were seriously injured.
But that’s only a start. Building safety is a tremendous concern in Bangladesh garment factories, and the Bangladeshi factories producing for these brands and many others continue to lack safety measures to prevent future fires or building collapses. Bangladesh is one of the largest and fastest growing exporters of garments, which makes the trend of workplace deaths even more concerning. As part of the solution, US and European apparel brands that have their garments sewn in Bangladesh should adopt a truly meaningful building safety program that includes thorough, independent, well-funded and publicly-transparent safety inspections of all multi-story supplier factories in their Bangladesh supply chains.
The tragedy last week could also have been prevented through improved building-safety measures. At least two of the same Hameem brands were sourcing from this factory, Eurotex. The factory management has provided the families of each of the deceased workers with TK20,000 (US$259), but that sum falls far short of the TK1.7million (US$22,000) per family that worker organizations are demanding.
ILRF has communicated our concern with the brands that are sourcing from Eurotex, and we will call for further consumer action if it becomes necessary. We’ll also continue to push for a comprehensive building safety program in Bangladesh to establish more transparent and effective prevention initiatives. Nothing less than workers’ lives are at stake.