Disaster again strikes Bangladesh garment industry

The collapse of a building housing several companies is the latest deadly incident involving apparel producers.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 24, 2013 2:15PM

Credit: © A.M.Ahad/AP
Caption: Bangladeshi soldiers use an earthmover during a rescue operation at the site of a building that collapsed a building collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed several garment factories collapsed early Wednesday. At least 70 people died, and that toll is expected to rise as rescue workers dig through the rubble.

A fireman told Reuters about 2,000 people were in the building, in a suburb of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, when the upper stories began to fall onto the floors below.

Bangladesh is second only to China in garment exports. But as the The New York Times reports, the nation's garment and textile industry "has been beleaguered by safety concerns, angry protests over rock-bottom wages and other problems."

In November, 112 workers were killed by a fire at the Tasreen Fashions factory in another Dhaka suburb. And officials quoted by Reuters say factory owners in the latest disaster ignored warnings to keep people out after cracks were discovered in the building Tuesday.

(The Tasreen Fashions fire is just one of 13 horrific industrial accidents that have occurred in the past century -- from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City to the Fukushima nuclear reactor explosions and meltdowns in Japan.)

Bangladesh, according to The Times, has the world's lowest labor costs, with a minimum wage of about $37 a month for a garment industry job. "Retailers and brands including Wal-Mart (WMT), H&M, Sears (SHLD), Gap, (GPS) Tommy Hilfiger (part of PVH Corp. (PVH)) and many others," the newspaper adds, "have outsourced the production of billions of dollars of clothes there."

In the aftermath of the Tasreen Fashions fire, Wal-Mart earlier this month announced it was instituting a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized subcontracting in Bangladesh. The world's largest retailer also said it was contributing $1.6 million to help launch an academy in Bangladesh "to provide comprehensive training on fire safety and environmental, health and workplace safety."

But Tessel Pauli, a spokeswoman for the Clean Clothes Campaign, in Amsterdam, is calling on U.S and European brands using Bangladeshi factories to act further in the wake of this latest tragedy.

"Immediate relief and long-term compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories," she said in a statement to the BBC, "and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening."

More on moneyNOW:

Apr 24, 2013 5:40PM
Disaster?  Did Walmart stop buying clothes manufactured in Bangladesh?  Who cares if sweat shops and other 3rd world country facilities collapse?  If we'd simply tax imports more instead of taxing other crap made in the US, perhaps it wouldn't matter and help us buy AMERICAN made.
May 3, 2013 1:34PM
Many people are taking this mishap as a reason to point fingers at how bad Walmart/other companies are and why we should stop buying products made in Bangladesh. But I don't really see how any American/European or any other company can monitor working conditions on the other side of the world. The problem is with the local business owners and local Government.

If consumers aren't buying things made in Bangladesh, companies will just take their business elsewhere - most possibly some place offering the same cheap labor at the expense of unsafe working conditions. And millions of people and families who depend on the clothes manufacturing industry in Bangladesh (an estimated 4 million of them women) will loose their livelihood.

Not every clothing manufacturer in Bangladesh has substandard working conditions (there are thousands of such companies). As a Bangladeshi myself I know this for a fact. Usually foreign buyers have some sort of health and safety standards for their supplier to follow and sometimes they conduct inspections too. The rules are already there - some just choose to not follow them.
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