Another Bangladesh Accident and Still No Safety Reform

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Will Bangladesh's latest industrial accident renew efforts to improve the country's safety record? It should.

An eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed today outside of Dhaka, killing at least 70 people and injuring about 800. This disaster comes just five months after a fire at the Tazreen garment factory killed more than 100. Since 2005, more than 700 garment workers have died in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.

Garments represent about 80 percent of manufacturing exports in Bangladesh, one of the least developed countries in the world. Fifty percent of the country's garment factories don't meet legally required work-safety standards, Bloomberg News reports.

As Bloomberg View has written, the proposed Fire and Building Safety Agreement, a program involving independent factory inspections, offers a way to improve the safety of these workers. But little progress has been made getting sufficient retailers to commit to it. Companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc. have opposed the agreement. (It's not yet clear for which companies the garment factories that collapsed today made clothes.)

On April 10, the International Labor Rights Forum brought Sumi Abedin, a survivor of the Tazreen fire, to Washington. Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, said in a statement:

"It's only a matter of time before the next Tazreen happens. I am increasingly concerned that the response by most U.S. brands that subcontract with these manufacturers has been woefully inadequate. When the cost to fix these fire hazards is estimated to be a mere 10 cents per garment, global brands like GAP and Wal-Mart need to be committing resources and entering into enforceable agreements to protect the lives of workers who create the ready-to-wear clothes they sell. Sumi's coworkers who perished in this fire must not be forgotten."

Neither should the ones who died today.

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