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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fire in Bangladesh’ clothing sweatshop claims more than hundred lives – Didn’t we hear that story before?! Yes, we did!

Ignorance can be a reason for mistakes, but it is seldomly an excuse!
Ernst Labruyère, 2012

On Monday, 28 November, there was shocking news from Bangladesh: the clothing factory Tazreen Fashions, established in a seven story building near capital Dhaka, caught fire, claiming the lives of at least 112, mostly female, workers.

The fire broke out on the groundfloor and worked its way up, while many workers were trapped like rats in a cage.

Yesterday, the news was spread that three managers had been arrested in connection with this fire. From an article at the Dutch website NU (

The Dhaka police arrested three managers of a large clothing factory in connection with last weekend’s fire. This fire killed 112, mostly female, workers.

The three would have obstructed workers in leaving the building and would have stated that it was only a fire-drill.

Chief of police Habibur Rahman told on Wednesday that survivors had told him  that doors were deliberately closed and some of the managers tried to keep their workers inside.

The aforementioned article in ‘Financieele Dagblad’ ( states also that Bangladesh counts about 4000 similar clothing factories, of which many lack sufficient safety measures. Bangladesh exports clothing to the tune of €15 bln, mainly to Europe and the US.

Reading stories like these makes me feel miserable and guilty. I’m almost certain that a substantial part of the clothing that my family and I wear was created in the same kind of factories (Personally, I prefer to call them sweatshops - EL)as Tazreen Fashions.

The fact that many (luxury) fashion brands and almost all inexpensive clothing shops use sweatshops like these for their total clothing production is a reason, but hardly an excuse for wearing clothes coming from these sweatshops. I’m very well aware of that and I hope this is also true for my readers…

Unfortunately, this event was not the first one in its kind, this year. Only two-and-a-half months ago, there were the horrific fires in sweatshops in Karachi and Lahore, claiming more than 300 lives. Also there people were trapped in the fire, while escape routes had been blocked by the managers of these factories.

In this article I came a.o. to the following conclusions:

c.    On the other hand: unfortunately, the events in Pakistan are not particularly new. In the past we heard more horror stories from China, India, Vietnam and almost all other low-wage countries. We know these events happen and we know that there is definitely a positive correlation between the low prices of their products at one hand and the lacking safety and bad and unhealthy labor circumstances at the other;

d.    We know that people in these factories and sweat shops in the low wage-countries often have been treated like cattle, or to state it more modern: like simple, replaceable means of production that have no additional value for the company than the value of their (manual) labor;

e.   We know that some of the most famous, rich and respected multinationals, like Apple, Nike, Adidas and C&A know these circumstances too. Although all of these companies pay lip-service to improvement of labor circumstances in the low-wage countries and some of these companies are even going through the motions for improving these circumstances, in the end the financial bottom line seems to win… too often;

How true this last statement was, became once again clear on November 29, through an ANP press release (Dutch general press agency). Here are the pertinent snips of this release, as it was printed in ‘Het Parool’ (

The Bangladeshian clothing sweatshop [Tazreen Fashions], where at least 112 workers were killed during a fire last Saturday, already had an unsafe reputation for quite some time. The Dutch daily newspaper Trouw stated that it already had been announced that the factory did not meet the safety requirements, when C&A ordered sweaters there at the beginning of 2012.

Company network BSCI investigated the clothing factory in 2011 and gave it an unsatisfactory mark. ‘ Purchase managers must have known that it was unsafe’, according to BSCI. 'C&A and Walmart, which both had clothes manufactured in this factory, are not BSCI-members. However, their investigators use the same common practices as ours. They should have seen similar things’, according to the organization.

C&A could have known, but chose not to know. Also here the financial bottom-line has clearly won the battle. 

In another article, Walmart (mentioned in the aforementioned article), together with Disney, stated not to do business anymore with Tazreen, exactly for these safety reasons.

In the ashes of the clothing factory in Bangladesh, remains were found of clothing from the brands Disney and Walmart. An AP-reporter discovered a Mickey Mouse-sweater and a stack of shorts from the Walmart label Faded Glory.

Walmart mentioned earlier in an official reaction that exactly the safety issues at Tazreen Fashions pushed them to abandon their contract with this clothing factory. Also Disney mentioned that it abandoned its approval for creating their brand clothes in this factory, more than one year ago.

If this is indeed true, it has been a wise decision by Walmart and Disney. It might even keep them out of a lot of trouble from a publicity point-of-view. Unfortunately, I am convinced that these brands still do business with other factories and sweatshops in the low-wage countries, where the labor circumstances of workers are still beneath the desired level. Therefore I don’t want to compliment these brands too early.

One of the celebrity-brands had not stopped yet to do business with Tazreen: P-Diddy’s (or is it Diddy?) brand ENYCE still manufactured clothes there, according to Dutch newspaper AD (; link in Dutch):

Campaigners have called P. Diddy to come into action after the fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh. Clothing of his brand ENYCE has been found n the burnt-down building. This is stated at the website of the Clean Clothes Campaign organization.

The fire was a reason for the rookie Dutch minister for Foreign Trade and development cooperation Lilian Ploumen to start a discussion with the clothing industry:

The Dutch clothing industry must use its influence to improve the safety situation in the clothing factories in Bangladesh. This was stated by minister Liliane Ploumen for Foreign Trade and development cooperation

Ploumen will soon sit about the table with representatives of the Dutch clothing industry to find out how government and companies can better cooperate at this subject.

This is a nice action by Ploumen, but in general it is too little too late. This is not the first incident and it will - sadly enough - not be the last. The same news message stated that a representative of C&A will travel to Bangladesh to discuss the safety situation with C&A's  suppliers. 

In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of hypocritical 'going through the motions-action' that most brands seem to do in similar situations. 

Like it was stated by the representative of BSCI in the earlier mentioned article (which was from a later date than this last article): 

‘ Purchase managers must have known that it was unsafe’, according to BSCI. 'C&A and Walmart, which both had clothes manufactured in this factory, are not BSCI-members. However, their investigators use the same common practices as ours. They should have seen similar things’, according to the organization.

Sometimes, it seems to me that companies like C&A think: not the crime itself makes us a criminal, but being caught for it.

I end with one advice from my previous article on the similar company fires in Pakistan. An advice, I’m ashamed to say it, that I didn’t follow to the letter myself.

One thing is certain: consumers should not decide with their mouths, concerning brands and companies that do business with factories and sweatshops in low wage countries where the most basic safety and labor rules are neglected, but with their feet and mousehand;

May your feet and your mousehand decide wisely in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. We've been there before.
    The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911...

    The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three;