The tragic fire that raged out of control on Saturday evening of November 24 at the Tazreen Fashion garment factory in Bangladesh resulted in the needless and horrible deaths of at least 112 workers.
Fifty-three workers, and possibly more, were burned beyond recognition and their parents had to bury their children in a common grave. Wal-Mart and Disney garments were being sewn at Tazreen where the fire burned for 12 hours.
Tazreen was a deathtrap, a tragedy waiting to happen — with no exterior fire escapes, no sprinkler system, with fire extinguishers that did not work, and locked windows at gates that trapped the workers. The only stairways led down to the inferno — the ground-floor warehouse piled to the ceiling with fabric, yarn, garments and accessories.
Now, just three weeks later, on December 17, 2012, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is releasing a new report that places Wal-Mart and Disney smack in the middle of another factory where emergency exits and fire extinguishers are blocked, while piles of flammable fabric, cotton, wool, yarns, thread and shipping materials reach to the ceiling.
At the Dream International Toy Factory in Shenzhen, China, the workers we spoke with told us that there had never been a fire drill in their crowded dorms. In addition to being a fire trap that could endanger the lives of over 2,000 workers, everything about Dream International is illegal. It is a sweatshop where every single labor law in China is violated, not to mention the International Labour Organization’s internationally recognized worker rights standards.
Is this how Wal-Mart and Disney are beefing up their fire safety standards, fair wages and respect for worker rights after the tragedy at Tazreen? If so, they are failing miserably.
This year, and especially during the holiday season, China will ship over $23 billion worth of toys and sporting goods to the U.S., which were made by an estimated three million workers, mostly women, who toil shifts of 12-plus hours in some 8,000 sweatshop factories across China. And this has been going on for well over 20 years.
Every year, the American people buy these toys and sporting goods. But isn’t it a little odd that we have never, not even once, had the chance to meet with even a handful of the workers in China who make the goods we buy? We know nothing about their lives — how many hours they work, what they are paid, if their human rights are respected....and what their hopes and dreams are.
It is not by chance that we know nothing about the Chinese workers and the Chinese workers know nothing about us. This is how Wal-Mart, Disney and the other corporations want it to be. We are not supposed to know about the grueling overtime hours in China, the dollar-an-hour wages, the miserable and primitive dorm conditions, and the lack of worker rights, religious and political freedoms.
There is one way we can stand up for ourselves, and for the workers in China and across the world. You know that corporations like Wal-Mart and Disney enjoy the benefit of all sorts of enforceable laws — intellectual property and copyright laws to protect their trademarks and designs. If anyone tries to make a knock-off of Mickey Mouse, that person will face some very serious jail time.
But if Mickey Mouse is protected, by enforceable laws backed up by sanctions, why is it that the worker who makes Mickey Mouse has no legal rights.
The answer is simple, while the corporations have all sorts of enforceable laws to protect their trademarks and products, these same corporations, including Wal-Mart and Disney, refuse to extend these legal protections to workers.
Please check out the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, which was supported in 2007-2008 by 175 members of the House of Representatives and 26 Senators including then-Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. This legislation would prohibit the import, export and sale of sweatshop products in the United States.
his would be a wake-up call to Wal-Mart, Disney and the other multinationals. Their sweatshop joyride may be coming to an end. It is up to the American people to decide. In fact, a Harris Poll showed that over 75 percent of Americans supported this legislation!
We, the American people, need to take back our economy and remake it with a human face.
Read the Institute’s new report on Dream International in China: