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(c) 2014 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Does the Media Comprehend the Tragedy of Mass Worker Death?


Shadows on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial

Today's post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City.  In 18 minutes 146 garment workers, mostly young women, were dead.  

The hideous circumstances of the tragedy – widely depicted by the media with front-page pictures of the corpses of women who had jumped from the building windows to avoid being burned to death – incited a wave of public revulsion that contributed to New York’s enactment of one of the nation’s first workers’ compensation statutes.  

This occurred in the so-called “Progressive” era of American political history – now largely a distant memory – when within the next decade the majority of states followed suit.

One hundred years later, similar tragedies in the world-wide garment industry, which feeds U.S. corporations like WalMart, H&M, and Gap, occur with scant media attention other than the possible effect of such disasters on corporate business operations.  
Jay Causey

In November of 2012, 112 garment workers died in a fire at a Bangladeshi factory producing WalMart clothing. (A manager had reportedly closed an exit gate after the fire alarm sounded, telling workers nothing was wrong and to just keep working.)  In another Bangladeshi factory on January 26, 2013, a fire killed seven garment workers who could not escape due to a blocked exit.

Rather than expressing outrage over these circumstances, U.S. media, including the New York Times, characterized these incidents not as human tragedies, inexcusably occurring in the 21st century industrial world, but as “blows to the Bangladeshi garment industry.”  


The fact is that with the globalization of that industry, these Bangladeshi workers are essentially “our” workers, making the clothes Americans wear, sold to us by U.S. corporate behemoths competing to do this at the lowest price possible they think will be acceptable to the American consumer.  The media is complicit in disconnecting these tragedies from our consciousness as intolerable – just as was the sense of our citizenry after Triangle – by focusing it’s reporting on the economic impact to the garment business and blandly parroting the boilerplate disclaimers of responsibility given them by the industry.
The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.
These incidents are almost never reported in a way that puts the question to the American consumer as to whether we’d pay a bit more per unit of clothing to ensure the safety of these workers rather than participate in the race to the lowest possible price.  

Labor cost as a component of garment retail price is miniscule – one to two percent.  The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.

As it turns out, however, when plans were being developed in 2011 to improve fire safety at Bangladeshi factories, those efforts were quashed by WalMart and Gap, who determined that preventing worker deaths from fire would cost too much: “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investment.”

Don’t expect to hear much more about all this from the corporate media.
Source:  www.fair.org

Photo credit: Photo credit: Madison Guy / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
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Read more about "Fashion Safety" - The Triangle Fire and workers' compensation:
Jan 03, 2013
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 ...
1 hour ago
Shadows on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial. Today's post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm. On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City.
Dec 07, 2012
"They killed time. Time was so precious, so important. But they said it was a false alarm."ABU NAYEEM MOHAMMAD SHAHIDULLAH, director general of Bangladesh's national fire service, on the actions of some managers ...
Feb 28, 2011
It was the deadliest workplace accident in New York City's history. A dropped cigarette on the 8th floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sparked a fire that killed over a hundred innocent people trapped inside. The private ...