A garment fire in Bangladesh killed 112 workers last week, harkening back to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist fire 100 years ago on March 24, 1911, which claimed the lives of 146 young men and women, mostly immigrant garment workers. The Triangle fire galvanized a broad spectrum of reformers and reforms, one of which was worker’s compensation. In the aftermath of the Triangle fire, many states adopted worker’s compensation laws. (Wisconsin’s was the very first constitutional law in 1911.) Other reforms included workplace safety regulations, child labor laws, and enhanced fire inspections, among others.
There is a growing effort by worker groups to demand safety reforms in Bangladesh where factory fires have killed hundreds of workers in recent years.
An additional tragedy in the Bangladesh fire, whose products are sold here in America Mart, was the revelation that managers may have lowered gates to prevent employees from leaving because they thought it was a false alarm. There is a growing effort by worker groups to demand safety reforms in Bangladesh where factory fires have killed hundreds of workers in recent years. Photos taken by workers showed labels for Wal-Mart’s private label Faded Glory in the remains, along with clothing for a number of other United States labels including work wear brand Dickies.
The analogies to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire are striking. In that fire, people on the 10th floor, mostly in administrative offices, were able to escape to the roof of an adjoining building. Workers on the 8th floor fled using the stairs, the fire escape and elevators. However, the elevators quickly broke and two dozen workers died when a fire escape collapsed. The door on the 9th floor was locked as a security matter to keep labor agitators away from the workers, and the press from entering the sweat shop floor. 250 employees worked on this floor in 8 rows of sewing machines, some of which blocked the exit. 47 people leaped to their death from the 8th and the 9th floors. Further details can be found in David Von Drehle’s Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.
For additional analysis of this tragedy, skip to about 2 minutes and 40 seconds into this video: