The Human Cost of Walmart Prices: Garment Workers Killed in Fire of Walmart-Supplying Factory

On November 24, 2012, a factory fire claimed the lives of over 112 Bangladeshi garment workers that produced garments for Walmart and other top retailers. Many trapped garment workers jumped to their deaths after encountering locked doors in the eight-story factory building, which lacked emergency exits or fire escapes.

Within days, Walmart disavowed responsibility by claiming its supplier subcontracted with the factory without its knowledge and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh blamed saboteurs for the fire. Walmart and the Bangladeshi government are clouding their role in creating the unsafe working conditions that allowed this tragedy to occur. According to Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium:

Bangladesh is now the second largest producer of apparel in the world and it got to that position by giving…retailers like Wal-Mart exactly what they want which is the cheapest labor costs in the world. And they achieve those low labor costs by paying minimum wages of 18 to 20 cents an hour and by completely ignoring fundamental worker safety protections. As a result, you have a massive industry with more than 3 million workers that is defined by sub-poverty wages and extreme dangers for workers inside the workplace. The fundamental change that is necessary here is for buyers like Wal-Mart to be willing to pay a price to the factories for the clothing sufficient to make it possible for the factories to produce in a safe and responsible manner. And yet, Wal-Mart and the others refuse to increase the prices they paid to factories to make it possible for them to operate safely.

According to Amy Goodman, co-host of Democracy Now:

This factory fire in Bangladesh recalls a similar tragedy more than 100 years ago here in the United States at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire…It was the deadliest workplace accident in New York City’s history and a seminal moment for American labor. On March 25, 1911, nearly 150 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, Jewish and Italian, died after a fire broke out at the Triangle Factory. Only a year before, workers had protested for shorter hours, better pay, safer worker conditions and the right to unionize.

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