At 4:45 p.m. on March 25, 2011, hundreds of bells rang across cities and towns in the United States to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The fire, which killed 146 garment workers — 129 of them women — managed to get the New York State Legislature to create the Factory Investigative Commission, which eventually made way for better labor laws.
It has been a century since that fire that woke up the United States to labor and worker safety reforms. But nothing has changed in another part of the world — where many US companies are currently manufacturing their products. On Nov. 24, 2012, 112 garment workers were killed in a blaze at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Just two months earlier, on Sept. 5, 25 workers at a fireworks factory in Sivakasi, India, were killed under similar circumstances; a week later, a total of 283 workers died in two separate fires in Pakistan — 258 in a garment factory in Karachi, and 25 in a shoe factory in Lahore. Two years ago, 29 people were killed in a similar fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, while manufacturing Gap products. In each of the cases, the fires were followed by a blame game over responsibility and liability. Interestingly, only the fire in Bangladesh has made international headlines because the factory was used by one of the suppliers of Walmart.