Building Collapse Kills 200 Bangladeshi Garment Workers


When can tragedy as such come to an end!?

NewYork Times reports today (April 25, 2013)

“A building housing several factories making clothing for European and American consumers collapsed into a deadly heap on Wednesday, only five months after a horrific fire at a similar facility prompted leading multinational brands to pledge to work to improve safety in the country’s booming but poorly regulated garment industry.

The Bangladeshi news media reported that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors immediately closed. But the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks.

International attention was focused on labor conditions in Bangladesh five months ago, with the fatal fire at Tazreen Fashions, a garment factory near Dhaka. That fire brought pledges from government officials and many global companies to tighten safety standards.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-leading garment exporter, trailing only China, but the industry has been plagued by concerns over safety and angry protests over rock-bottom wages. The industry has grown rapidly in the past decade, particularly as rising wages in China have pushed many global clothing companies to look for lower costs elsewhere. Bangladesh has the lowest labor costs in the world, with the minimum wage for garment workers set at roughly $37 a month.

Such low labor costs have attracted not just Walmart but almost every major global clothing company, including Sears, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and many others. Bangladesh now has more than 5,000 garment factories, employing more than 3.2 million workers, many of them women, and advocates credit the industry for lifting people out of poverty, even with such low wages. Exports also provide a critical source of foreign exchange that helps the government offset the high costs of imported oil.

But critics have argued that the outsize importance of the industry has made the government reluctant to take steps that could increase costs or alienate foreign brands. Labor unions are almost nonexistent, and a labor organizer, Aminul Islam, was tortured and murdered last year. The case remains unsolved. Meanwhile, some factory owners say they cannot raise wages or invest in upgrading facilities because of the low prices paid by Western brands.

The news was also covered by CNN:

NPR News Discussion

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

39 thoughts on “Building Collapse Kills 200 Bangladeshi Garment Workers”

  1. This article was brought to my attention earlier this morning. I was on the Women’s Wear Daily website and saw the headline about a Bangladesh factory tragedy, and was immediately reminded of the article read earlier in the year in class. I was so surprised to see that this incident happened again in Bangladesh. I would think factory owners would pay more attention to its factory’s conditions after the previous fire. The article also states “That fire brought pledges from government officials and many global companies to tighten safety standards.” These pledges were clearly not taken seriously and the safety standards were clearly overlooked. It is appalling to know that this country keep going through this same devastation because of lack of care by its factory owners.

  2. This is and absolute tragedy that was very preventable. After doing the case study on the Bangladesh fire it was clear that the problem of building codes was not going to be solved. Previous incidents should have shown how dangerous it is to have workers in a building that is not safe. Hopefully building owners will be held accountable for this because of the huge amount of people that died.

  3. After working on the entire case study about a very similar situation, it is disappointing to hear another tragedy come up in the news. When situations such as these arise, the T&A industry gain a lot of attention and usually not in a positive manner. When they go into further detail about investigating this collapse, they are going to inspect things such as fire codes and the companies this factory was producing for. The amount of scrutiny Walmart received is something that no company wants to be placed in the spotlight for. I can see how these countries claim they need all these workers to compete with Western prices and the Western industry, yet is that something we really want to be heavily placing them on? Do we really want 3rd world countries feeling the need to compete at such a rapid pace that tragedies like this continue to arise?

    1. I have been thinking a lot about your last question. I hope more people–even those not in our field can start thinking about it, becuase we are all consumers for clothing

  4. I also agree with the other comments students have posted about this tragedy and how unfortunate it is. After discussing this exact issue in the first case study of the semester, I am nothing but aggravated with the situation. Shouldn’t companies regulate these factories before allowing factories to manufacture their merchandise? Why is nothing being done about this?! Clearly this is a severe issue considering hundreds have died in these incidences, and I believe Western nations should take part of the responsibility for this. It’s because of Western countries that developing nations feel the need to compete and produce at such a high, almost ridiculous, rate. How can we fix this?

  5. This situation is just a vicious cycle that will never end until firms and leaders want to pay more for increased safety control and therefore ensure the quality of their products!! Factory workers dying for the sole reason that their boss refrains to let them leave work for safety reasons. What goes through a manager’s thought process when he allows work to be done in these conditions? His first thoughts may be concerning his foreign customers who need their clothing manufactured. If the products do not get finished, everyone loses money, the firm gets upset and may not want to use this factory anymore, and the factory will only lose money until they can find another client. No matter what, MONEY is the first concern in these types of situations. Money should not be a substitution for ethical practice and safety of workers. In America we have the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules that help to govern employees’ rights and minimum wage. Another sad point is that the minimum wage of workers in Bangladesh cannot increase unless foreign clients want to pay more for the production of their textiles and apparel. Maybe if foreign clients and factories could produce a contract that would ensure a completely safe work environment and the factory would be able to pay the workers more.
    Such a preventable situation cannot be solved. The firms who use this factory should take a stand against this behavior and call into question the decisions behind making the workers continue production in unsafe conditions.

  6. Hearing this story saddens me, as I think of how many lives were lost and how many more are affected. It reminds me of our first case study, which covered the Fire in the Tazreen Factory, which is also located in Bangladesh. I question what it will take for stricter regulations to be put into place, and how many more lives will be lost before the working conditions in Bangladesh and other developing countries improves. I can only hope that this tragedy leads to change, and that the owners of the Bangladesh factory are held responsible.

  7. This is a prime but tragic example of poor working conditions in the textile and apparel industry. I was saddened to read how cracks were acknowledged prior to the accident yet there was no extreme measures taken to shut the factory down. This is reminiscent of Tazreen fashions factory fire. The factory did not pass safety inspections yet people continued to work there. If there were greater measures taken to ensure that the building would have been shut down, both of these tragedies could have been prevented. The textile and apparel industry needs to be far more considerate of their employees. Their lives are crucial and vital and must be valued more in terms of their safety. These accidents reflect poorly on the textile and apparel industry. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to recruit employees if they see how dangerous it is to work in these conditions. Since these countries are not able to fend for themselves with the poor wages and conditions, I think the US should take the effort to attempt to better these conditions. Although we cannot influence wages, we can influence the conditions within they operate.

  8. After reading this article, it was interesting to see that labor conditions and employee’s safety have not changed much in Bangladesh. Earlier in the semester we conducted a case study on a fatal fire at the Tarzeen factory. After the fire in Tarzeen, there was much dispute on who should be blamed: the factory owners or the major companies back in the United States? This same issue could arise from this recent building collapse. This factory produces clothing for European and American consumers, so there could be controversy on who to blame in this situation.

  9. My mom told me about this article yesterday afternoon. She didn’t go to work and was watching the news and told me about this tragedy. Unfortunately, I am not completely shocked that this happened, but it is a horrible tragedy. From our previous case studies, we have learned about horrible conditions that these employees were forced to work with and the dangers that they face just by doing their job. I hope that the factory owners and even American companies outsourcing to these companies use this tragedy as a wake up call that things really need to change. As someone who is employed in America, is absolutely crazy to me that inspection teams discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday and the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks and the fact that lowers floors closed immediately. I do not think this would ever happen in America because according to the laws we have for equal employment, safety is our first priority. This worst part of this tragedy is that all of these lives could have been saved and this could have been one hundred percent prevented.

  10. Reading about this tragedy and the Bangladesh fire, it is obvious that these factory buildings are far from meeting safety codes. We may not be able to change the way they treat their workers, but we should at least be able to ensure their safety. By simply building the factories correctly, it would have saved hundreds of lives. I hope from this tragedy, officials in Bangladesh realize they need to start following building safety codes.

    1. agree. Our TMD/TM students will become professionals in the T&A industry. As I mentioned in the class, industry practice also has an impact on the matter. I hope no matter you are purchasing a clothing, designing it or sourcing it, you will have people on the other side of the ocean in mind.

  11. This story truly breaks my heart knowing that many innocent workers were killed or injured just because people weren’t willing to shut down the factory and do the necessary repairs on the building that could have prevented this from happening. It seems like factory owners in Bangladesh care only about the money the factory makes and not about building codes and violations. Since the garment industry is such a huge part of Bangladesh’s economy it is obvious as to why the government won’t intervene because it could slow down production and they could lose money in the end. There needs to be better regulations for this industry so that a situation like this or like the factory fire wouldn’t happen in the future.

  12. This is just tragic and calls for immediate action to be taken. This is the second time in months that an incident has occurred in Bangladesh. I think that the government needs to step up immediately unless they want more casualties and also companies hiring the places need to work with them and fix this issue. The production of garments should not be the number one concern of management but their employees well being because with no employees then they cannot make the garments in the timely manner.

  13. This is truly a tragic situation. I felt a serious connection to the story because we read about the similar factory fire in class. As we sat in class and spoke about what we would do to prevent safety hazards and who should be responsible; none of us were expecting something like this to actually happen. Reading this article brought many questions to my mind… Why would they make workers report to the factory when there were known cracks in the structure? Who should be held responsible for this? Is it the owner’s fault or management? Should the U.S. and European retailers also be held responsible… what about European and U.S. consumers buying the clothes these innocent people were making? Bangladesh is the world’s second leading apparel exporter and has the lowest labor costs in the entire world. There is no reason that employees should be working in an unsafe environment. Someone needs to regulate and see that these factories are taking the necessary measures to ensure safety…

  14. After spending so much time on our case study regarding the fire in Bangladesh and hearing about another tragedy just a couple of months later is truly heart breaking. There could have been prevention to both of these incidents. When will factory owners realize this? There never should have been a second time that there was a problem. I can’t help but ask a million questions in my head of what could have been done and who is responsible. Employees in Bangladesh should not be going to work every day in unsafe environments.

  15. After reading this it brought me back to the first case study we did. It just shows that these working conditions are not safe. There needs to be higher restrictions and guidelines to prevent future tragedies like this one. You would think that because of something similar to this happening five months prior that there would be change. I think if we as a class after completing the first case study and finding a solution that any one else can, but its mostly put on the back burner and isn’t enforced. There needs to be change and fast!

  16. It is devastating to hear news about another garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh. These factory workers do not deserve to be forced to work in these poor conditions. It seems as if the factory owners are never going to learn from these incidents and spend the time and money to update factory buildings. It is also shameful that the US retailers whom rely on these factories have not stepped in to make an effort in improving working conditions for the workers who make their products. There is too much pressure placed on factory owners by US retailers to crank out hundreds of orders within an extremely short time frame. This is one of the reasons why factory owners don’t take the time to renovate their buildings; they are afraid of losing their retail customers which would shut them down completely. This does not make it right, however. Ultimately, I believe that US retailers need to take responsibility and try to find a way to improve these poor labor conditions because it is not worth losing hundreds of lives over this.

    1. I am thinking maybe TMD/TM students should organize a campus-wide or community-wide campaign to raise people’s awareness of such incidents. I don’t think everyone on the campus understand/realize the connection between their choice/retailers practice with the tragedy on the other side of the ocean. This is also why T&A industry still deserves attention in this country, even not many production remains here.

  17. I think it is unreal that incidents like this keep on happening in Bangladesh. The case study we did in class a few weeks ago originally opened my eyes to the conditions and what was going on over in Bangladesh. Hearing this shows that poor working conditions are not changing and have not been fixed. I think that countries like the U.S. who do their production in countries like Bangladesh really need to start enforcing safer working conditions ASAP or take their production elsewhere. Yes the cost of manufacturing would increase, and thus the cost of products would increase but that’s better than losing these lives. I also think if the threat of moving production elsewhere actually happening the factory owners would quickly make sure safer working conditions were present so that their factory would continue to get work.

  18. It’s really depressing that this building collapse happened in Bangladesh just months after the Tarzeen fire. It’s a shame that better precautions weren’t taken in the entire building. I understand that the demand for cheap clothing is so high, but that does not mean putting people’s life in danger. Even though the company could have lost profit from sending workers home after the crack was found, it would have been much better than over 200 people losing their lives. The government definitely needs to step in and take more action to provide the workers with safety. The building owners and company managers need to take responsibility for their employees and find a nice balance between giving employees better working conditions and keeping their company profitable. It’s easy said than done, but I think in time its possible.

  19. I think it’s so sad that there continues to be so many safety issues in these factories and no one seems to be doing much about it. You would think that after such a huge accident with the Tarzeen fire, more places would be inclined to make sure the buildings are safe. It’s also very unsettling that people knew that this building had cracks in their foundation and they still ordered people to work there. It never ceases to amaze me how many lives people will put at risk just so they don’t have to pay more than what they believe is necessary. I think both the factory managers and owners, as well as the U.S. retailers that use these factories, need to take responsibility for what is happening and do something about it.

  20. This article was extremely disappointing to read. This article also reminded me of the case study that we worked with in class. It is sad to hear how safety hazards and other important steps are not being taken seriously enough. Also, the workers feel so much pressure when working in these types of conditions. When something like this happens there is always a negative connotation on what happens in the textile and apparel industry. It is time that factory managers and owners go over safety precautions and do everything in their power to keep these buildings safer. Also, the companies in the U.S that use these factories also need to take part and help these factories get better working conditions and help go over safety precautions.

  21. It’s terrible to hear about another building collapsing, filled with workers who make clothes for American and European consumers. It makes me feel how irresponsible we have become with checking the factories we hire to produce our products. What made me extremely startled is how the supervisors from the garment factories knew a day before the building collapses and refused to let the workers stop. I find it extremely cruel of the lives they put in danger. That is what makes me wonder about the pressures these supervisors receive from the American and European companies. Does the US and European clothing companies put that much pressure on their factory workers that they feel they need to continue working even though there is a high chance of the building collapsing? Or are the money hungry factory owners that will put people’s lives in danger to keep money flowing in?

  22. Building Collapse Kills 200 Bangladeshi Garment Worker Article
    It is terrifying and disappointing to see another tragedy happen again after the horrific fire from five months ago. Many of my fellow classmates referred to the first case studies and how upset they are reading another news that is related the T&A industry and Bangladesh. To us (our textile market class) the fire that happened five months ago should have served as a warning for factory owners and apparel industry companies should require a stricter safety regulations and etc. but only did we learn that little have been done. Big retailers such as Wal-Mart said they will do something about it, but I feel like they were just throwing some “crumbs” at the audience to quiet down the issue.
    I am sadden to learn that another tragedy happened in Bangladesh, but I am not surprised it happened. I have a feeling, there will be more tragedies happening in the future that is related to the T&A industry in Bangladesh. As China’s wages are increasing, companies are shifting their factories to another country and Bangladesh was the chosen one. As the t-shirt book mentioned, in underdeveloped countries, such as Bangladesh, their system is corrupted. Money does the talking and action. Bribery exist throughout the entire status ladder in underdeveloped country, and sad to say, China, the world’s second largest economy are still prone to bribery and embezzlement. Bribery and embezzlement does not only happen in underdeveloped or developing countries, it happens everywhere. But I guess, it is more common in poor countries.
    Could the building be prevented from collapsing and killing more than 200 people? Of course, but factory owners are reluctant to do so because it will slow down their production which means less profit. I feel like, factory owners in underdeveloped countries are testing the limit of their luck, or put it this way, they are reluctant to act until something big happens. After taking TMD 433, all of us should know, textile industry could help kick start poor countries economy because it requires labor rather than capital. At this point, factory owners are probably trying to bring in the maximum amount of profit in the cheapest way. China, did the same thing, they focused on quantity rather than quality. Speed is the key and I think that is why Bangladesh refused to fix up the factories. We could counteract it with, it is unethical for factories to neglect their workers’ safely and companies should do something about it. However, when manufacturing is done oversea, I feel what the public sees and hear are very superficial and it could be staged with some money.
    The article mentioned, “the industry lifting people out of poverty, even with such low wages” which I believe is true. Recently in New York Times, an article mentioned how prostitution in Bangladesh is getting harder to locate due to the advance in technology. Women could be killed by their husband if they found out what their wife is doing to bring in money for the family, but they get punished for not bring in money as well. So what I am trying to say is that, either the women in Bangladesh make a living through prostitution or work in an unsafe environment. In this case, a cramped factory would most likely be a better choice.
    When can tragedy such as this comes to an end? I do not want to admit, but I feel like tragedy as such as this will only continue as the race to the bottom continues . Unless companies are really going to do something about it and consumers are willing to pay more for their apparels, which I do not sure about.

  23. These have been terrifying events. After doing the case study we can now understand the problems these manufacturers are going through. These buildings should be inspected more strictly and follow safety regulations. Safety regulations are there for a reason… To keep people safe! If they took these precautions we would not have to wake up to this horribly sad news.. And all this could have been prevented. The worse part is that this factory manufactured clothing for the U.S and for Europe. As a consumer I feel that it is partly our faults. As a country we are so used to fast, cheap and easy. We don’t seem to care how we acquire these items just as long as we get them. If retail stores were willing to change their policies and outsource from companies that are safer it may keep more people alive!
    As fellow people we should watch out for our fellow man and care about them too.
    It is just so sad to see this happen… Especially when it could have been prevented.

  24. News like this really makes me rethink where I shop at times. Bangladesh being known for the very inexpensive exports in garments is making companies overlook safety issues. I also cannot believe that regardless of the cracks in the structure of the plaza, the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors told the employees to continue working. The more we buy the more manufactures need, so they do what is now cheaper and unsafe. The companies are taking absolute advantage on the ridiculously low wages they pay those that work for these factories. They feel like there is nothing wrong because it is taking them out of the poverty, but now they are risking their life. The ones that were so poor now get ready for a job that might not remain for long because of negligence in safety standards. Does it really make sense?

  25. When i saw the title about a Bangladesh factory tragedy I was reminded of the article we read earlier this year about the first incident that occurred there . I was so completely shocked to learn that this incident happened again in Bangladesh. One would think that factory owners should have learned after the first time to pay more attention to its factory’s conditions and address the safety hazards. The article also states that they brought government officials to tighten the safety standards, which clearly was not taken care of after the first time. It is devastating to know that this country may keep experiencing these same problems because of the lack of care by its factory owners.

  26. After reading this story, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Boston Bombing that happened just a week ago. When the United States was attacked by those two bombers, killing two and injuring over 200, the world grieved and fought to get to the bottom of this random act of violence. In less then a week the attackers were found and the issue resolved, keeping much media attention and outreach going to those injured and families affected by the two deaths. In comparison, over 200 workers were killed in the same week across the globe in a situation that could have been prevented, and barely any focus and help is going to fix the problem. All of the evidence and information that was stated in this article that explained the legisitics behind how this could have never happened was all on the basis of money which put this problem on the back burner, ending in this tragedy. How are the working conditions in these countries going to change if the officials that are put in charge of the well-fare and overall safety’s motivation is being considered under the terms of keeping their business in constant competition with China, under and circumstances. If the same problems are happening today that occurred in over hundred years ago in the shirt waist factory fire, in a day in age where five years old have iphones, there is definitely a disconnect between priorities a money hungry companies. It is truly disheartening to know that someone’s life is less important that a percentage increase in sales.

  27. How many collapsed factories and killed garment workers will take before there are legitimate rules put in place to promoted safer work environment for the garment workers in Bangladesh? I first heard about the collapsed factory watching the daily news and I said to myself not another one. This just reminded me of the first case study the class did. It very sad that not only are these people are getting low pay but their lives are in danger and are not guarantee to return to their family safely. If Bangladesh in the world’s second-leading garment exporter, factories should be able to build buildings that are safe and strong. I feel like one of the reasons factories owner many not are able to build a strong building because they may not have enough money. It’s time that factories owner start asking their customers such as Wal-Mart, Sear and Gap to pay more for their products. Paying extra to get a product manufacture will not cause these companies any harm.

  28. After reading this article it makes me sick to my stomach. I cannot believe people care about clothing being produced over people’s lives. All the other companies in the same building stopped their business because the building was unsafe but the garment factory did not. You would think after the huge fire that occurred, in the same country, a couple of months earlier, would make people realize they should tighten up their working conditions. The people working in the building were warned that there were cracks in the structure and still did not care. These tragedies happen because the Western brands put so much pressure on low prices. Surprisingly it is not just Walmart and other low price brands that are sourcing such cheap labor but it is brands such as Gap and Tommy Hilfiger as well. I think that the whole production process should be restructured and there needs to be rules and regulations on every garment produced. I am appalled that the labor organizer was tortured and murdered in Bangladesh and now there is no labor unions. I wonder if this had anything to do with the apparel industry. Most people would never know about these pieces of information and I think it should be more publicized. Therefore maybe consumers would be more conscious of what they are buying.

  29. To follow up on what some of you have said…
    Yes, the factory owners need to be held responsible. But so do the Western companies who employ the services of those factories. This is not an accident, nor is it a fluke happenstance. This happens again and again simply because people are willing to trade human lives for cheaper products. Companies like Wal-Mart and others in developed countries turn a blind eye to the inhumane conditions in places like these because they know that if they do not they will need to turn to somewhere more expensive to provide them with their products.

    This story reminded me of a video that I watched in my Women’s studies class, posted here.

  30. This story breaks my heart that garment companies care so little about the safety of their employees that they would leave in such danger. It makes me wonder how many more people need to die in order for the point to get across of how unsafe these facilities are.

  31. This incident is very upsetting. When will this alll end? It seems that no matter how many people die and how many buildings get destroyed, no one is helping the situation of horrible working conditions and cheap labor. I think the rich companies should fund the building. It could be good PR for their company. Just a thoughtful idea, since most people are selfish and will only do something nice if they get praise or something in return. I hope this eventually ends. The rich are getting richer and the poor are dying !

    1. one encouraging sign somehow is retailers concerned are responding to the media report quickly. They fully understand this is no longer something they can treat lightly or ignore. Consumers have the power to make a difference, just like why so many companies are eager to let consumers know they are selling “sustainable” products.

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