The Beginning of a Long March?

May 2, 2013
In the United States, it was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 that coalesced a long-building movement to improve factory safety conditions. But even the deaths of 146 people. mostly young women, didn't solve our safety problems. Safety is still a struggle in any manufacturing environment.

In the United States, it was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 that coalesced a long-building movement to improve factory safety conditions. But even the deaths of 146 people. mostly young women, didn't solve our safety problems. Safety is still a struggle in any manufacturing environment. We only have to look back two weeks to the West, Texas, explosion to see that while factory safety in the United States has improved greatly in the last 100 years, we still have a ways to go. Still factory safety here continues to get better over time.

Perhaps the factory collapse in Bangladesh will be the same kind of pivotal moment for that poor, beleagured county. I hope so. (It my impression that if it's not a monsoon or monster flood, it's an epidemic or a factory accident with mass casualities that is on the agenda over there all the time. All the worst stuff seems to happen to these folks whose only sin seems to be trying to get by just like the rest of us--that and having the misfortune to live in one of the poorest countries in the world.)

Lord knows, there's enough outrage in Dhaka at the moment. Heads are rolling. The latest casualty is the local mayor. The factory owner, two managers and two engineers have already been arrested.

But it's early days. The outrage may only last so long--until the next disaster. And there are so many causes, not all of which have anything to do with factory safety: the fact that Bangladesh is so poor; that it has a large population for whom even the risable wages they make are a god-send; that 80% of the garment workers are women with few rights; that corruption at all levels of government is rampant; and that its best customers--first-world countries--have an insatiable appetite for cheap t-shirts and other trendy clothing.

There's no magic bullet here. The changes will have to be incremental. The solutions will be complex. It's taken the United States 100 years to get where we are with factory safety. We can only hope, for its citizens' sakes, that it won't take Bangladesh as long. 

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