Throughout my high school education, I have learned about the Industrial Revolution and the horrible working conditions that workers faced every day. Workers dying daily in factories and children operating dangerous machines were details in the textbooks, but were far removed society today.
Now in 2012, we should be thankful that workers are guaranteed rights, the environment is protected, and the products we buy are safe. Right? However, the underlying conflict is that many of the products you use today are made with the same practices that were in place during the American Industrial Revolution.
On Nov. 24, a factory fire broke out in the Tazreen factory of Bangladesh, killing 112 workers. The factory was producing clothes for major American retailers including Walmart and Sears. And to make situations worse, the factory managers locked the workers inside every day to make sure they continued working. When the managers found that there was a fire on that day, it was too late.
And while these workers faced dangers far beyond any other factory in the United States, each worker made only about $40 a month. That’s less than $2 a day.
This factory makes $35 million a year. If even a half a million dollars was spent on the workers’ safety, then Bangladesh would not be in the records of having the worst factory fire in its history. And if the companies gave a small percentage of their factories’ income back to the workers, it would double every workers income. Yet, large companies refuse to increase the workers’ salaries. And so, I wouldn’t mind paying $4 more for my sweatshirt just to know that the people making it were not mistreated or in danger.
In America, we have laws and regulations so businesses have to protect their workers. Some companies simply left the United States and set up factories in countries that were just starting in industry.
Unfortunately, big businesses are accustomed to workplace disasters like Tazreen. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York killed 146 women who were making clothes. Similar to the situation at the factory in Bangladesh, the doors were locked to keep women working and there were no safety precautions or fire exits in the building.
But consumers like us can change business practices around the world. For example, we could stop buying things from stores such as Walmart, L.L Bean, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
When I look back at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the recent blaze in Bangladesh, I see history repeating itself. I don’t know how many more lives it will take until big businesses will finally realize that their practices are immoral and it’s necessary to change things.