Is Your Wardrobe Killing Bangladeshis, or Saving Them?
Inside the garment factory, hundreds of poor women sewed the clothes that filled our shops. The factory’s owners had been warned that the place was hazardous; they ignored the warnings. When disaster struck, the death toll was horrendous.
That describes the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 Jewish and Italian immigrants, many under 18, roasted or plunged to their deaths after the owner of the Manhattan clothing factory ignored fire-safety warnings and locked workers inside.
It also seems to be what happened this week on the outskirts of Dhaka when an eight-storey complex collapsed after its owners had reportedly ignored government warnings about dangerous fractures in the building. The death toll has topped 300. Many of the clothes they were sewing were for European and North American consumers, including some being made for Joe Fresh, owned by grocery giant Loblaw Cos. Ltd.
That leads to uncomfortable questions: If you’re wearing Joe Fresh, do you have hundreds of deaths on your hands? Are our clothing bargains creating poverty, misery and death in poor countries? Would the world be better off if we didn’t buy clothes made in Bangladesh?
Those questions are understandable, but they miss the larger context.