When the fire alarm went off, workers were told by their bosses to go back to their sewing machines. An exit door was locked. And the fire extinguishers didn’t work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors and customers.
Though the safety risk posed by Tazreen’s substandard equipments was understood well before Sunday’s blaze, the same conditions appear to be relatively common among Bangladeshi factories. Since 2006, over 200 garment-factory workers have died in workplace fires. After another garment-factory lit up on Monday, the Guardian reported that “[w]orking conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of safety laws, and overcrowding and locked fire doors are common.”
Fire safety is far from the only threat facing Bangladeshi garment workers. Bangladesh’s minimum wage requires workers be paid at least $37 a day, but there are credible reports of factories are paying below even this pittance as well as (occasionally sexual) abuse of employees. Bangladesh only recently legalized unions, and the ones that do exist are not yet powerful enough to take on the garment industry.
Walmart conceded on Monday night that their products were being made in the Tazreen Factories plant, saying “A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorisation and in direct violation of our policies…Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier.”