On November 25, 2012, the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh took the lives of 112 workers. On April 10, 2013, Tazreen factory fire survivor Sumi Abedin arrived in Washington, D.C. to meet with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) in hopes of shedding light on the dangerous working conditions of the workers who make the clothes that are sold in American stores. Between the time of the Tazreen fire and the meeting with Rep. Miller, more than 40 fires had been reported in Bangladeshi garment factories. It was noted that Rep Miller stated that "It's only a matter of time before the next Tazreen happens."
On April 24, 2013, a mere two weeks after Rep. Miller met with Abedin, the world was shaken with the news of the collapse of a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 people. People were killed because they were working in substandard buildings to earn substandard wages ($37 week) so that we, the consumers, could pay less for clothing and that the largest corporations in the world could reap huge and often obscene profits.
A little more than a hundred years ago in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took the lives of 146 workers. It has been established that the owner's greed prevented the adoption of basic fire and safety measures. After the fire, the Factory Investigation Committee recommended 28 new bills that would establish safer working conditions for employees, as well as the power to enforce the new regulations. 25 of the bills were passed.
It would be negligent to point a blaming finger for the total disregard of worker safety at just the garment industry. There are many industries who are reckless with the health and safety of its workers. And why stop at workers? There are plenty of corporations that have taken their bad behavior to the streets, literally. Now you don't even have to be an employee or customer to be abused by some of the corporate superpowers.
Today's top three offenders:
1. Rotten Apple is Still a Bad Employer:
Just when we thought that Apple would have figured it out that consumer watchdogs were not going to stop snooping into its business practices, they continue to fail at monitoring their supply chain to ensure the employees that make its products are treated fairly.
Yes, they did make strides with FoxConn by raising wages, placing suicide nets to keep employees from killing themselves, and by reducing the mandatory unpaid overtime. But labor protection group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) has released an unfavorable report of working conditions in Apple’s new supplier in Shanghai, a factory run by RiTeng Computer Assessory Cp., a subsidiary of Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Pegatron.
Not only did RiTeng experience an explosion last year at one of its Shanghai factories that sent 61 workers to the hospital, SACOM’s new report accuses the supplier of ongoing widespread labor abuses. According to SACOM, overtime can reach up to 200 hours a month, five times the legal limit, and oops … the supplier also fails to pay for some of the logged overtime work. The report also states the supplier never has given workers the promised 10-minute breaks every two hours.
Come on Apple, you are being watched. It is perplexing that even though workers are paid a mere $13.50 a day for their labor, Apple products are still more expensive than most of its competitors.
2. Walmart's New Corporate Slogan Should Be You Name It - We Abuse It:
In Bangladesh, Walmart was just another label on the clothing being made by workers who were forced to work under sweatshop conditions in unsafe environments for pennies a day. One of the factories making the cheap Walmart clothing was located in the Rana Plaza Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that collapsed on April 24, 2013 killing over 1,100 people – most of them women and girls.
Since the collapse In Dhaka, retailers around the globe have signed a pact agreeing to join forces to inspect and underwrite the cost of bringing the factories used in their supply chains up to code. These companies have a some kind of moral compass and have come together to try to act so that workers are provided a safe environment in which to make the clothes that are sold around the world.
Apparently Walmart’'s moral compass has been misplaced, because they have refused to sign the pact and have said that they will provide their own inspections and will list the results of the inspections on the company website in six months. Oh boy, here we go again, self-regulation. We don’'t have to look far to find the results of other corporate/industry attempts at self-regulation: Wall Street Banks and the melt-down of the United States Eeconomy and BP with its disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the water, killing over 8,000 animals (birds, turtles, mammals), and affected 16,000 miles of United States coastline, come to the forefront rather quickly. Since Walmart’'s supply chains seem to be located in third-world countries, consumers don’'t seem to have been too upset over Walmart’'s inaction on inspecting the factories. Maybe it is because none of Walmart’'s retail stores have collapsed, killing all the employees. - Americans wouldn’'t stand for such a thing happening on American soil.
The United States has a different problem with Walmart. They have not only single-handily bullied theirits way into almost every neighborhood in the United States, but hasave also left a wake of destruction in its path. Long-time mom & pop businesses shuttered and suppliers unable to compete with the abusive suppliers overseas have closed their doors, leaving no competition for selling its products and few alternatives for employment for local workers. - Walmart can pretty much do as they please.
The beauty in Walmart’'s tactic(s) is that even if you don’'t shop at any of its stores, you, the American Ttaxpayer, subsidize them! Here is how it works … Walmart refuses to pay its employees a “"living wage”," which means enough for the worker to pay rent, buy groceries, etc., tThus they need help and that help comes in the form of food and health subsidieszes from the government —– paid for by American Ttaxpayers! Meanwhile, the heirs and stockholders of Walmart are enjoying the all-time high profits and laughing all the way to the bank, – and I imagine the banks they are running to are located in some foreign tax- haven.
3. West Fertilizer Company Didn't Just Eliminate Competition, They Almost Eliminated the Whole Town:
West Fertilizer Company in is based in West, Texas, where an explosion on April 17 killed 14 people, left 200 others with injuries (including burns, lacerations, and broken bones), flattened houses and a 50-unit apartment building, destroyed a nursing home, damaged a local school, and left a crater measured at 93 feet by 10 feet. West Fertilizer repeatedly neglected to report the amount and type of dangerous chemicals in its facility and refused to install common- sense safety measures, that putin the process putting both its employees and the surrounding community at risk.
Firefighters know that their jobs are dangerous but they brave those dangers to keep their communities safe. Withholding the information from the Fire Department that would have alerted the 8eight firemen who lost their lives in the explosion to the deathtrap they were entering is not negligence, it is murder.
The United States government is culpable as well. They have hindered Ffederal Rregulators by reducing staff and funding, making it nearly impossible to inspect every small facility in the country. OSHA lacks the resources to undertake inspections needed to make sure companies are in compliance with the safety standards. OSHA’'s staff of 2,400 inspectors would take 90 years to conduct inspections of all eligible facilities in just Texas! According to the Congressional Research Committee, there are at least 2,500 facilities around the country that could each put over 10,000 people at risk in the event of an accident. Last year alone, 1,270 people died in over 30,000 chemical spills and accidents.
The next time I hear a politician say that we need fewer regulations for businesses, I am going to say I want more resources for OSHA, so they can enforce the regulations that are already in place.