Young women continue to die locked in sweatshops, labor group warns

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 17:50 EDT
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As the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire approaches, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights urged the United States to pass legislation to prevent multi-national corporations from violating internationally recognized worker rights standards, such as no child or forced labor, decent working conditions, freedom of association and the right to organize a union.

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire resulted in the death of 146 female workers, who were locked inside the factory by their managers, on March 25, 1911. The women worked 6 days a week, often 14 hours shifts, and earned the meager wage of 14 cents an hour. (The equivalent of $3.18 an hour in 2011, adjusted for inflation.)

After the death of workers in a Bangladesh sweatshop, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights said now was the time to hold corporations accountable to respect labor laws and pass the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act.

The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators in 2007, but never made it out of House and Senate committees. The bill would have prohibited the import, export, and sale of goods made with sweatshop labor.

In December 2010, a incident similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire occurred when a fire broke out at the Hameem factory in Savar, Bangladesh, which was sewing garments for Gap. Twenty-nine workers died and over 100 were injured. The workers at the clothing factory told the institute that security guards locked the exits during the fire to prevent garments from being stolen.

Most workers at the factory worked 80 hours per week and made only 28 cents an hour, just one tenth as much as the Triangle workers did in 1911. Additionally, workers at the Hameem factory were not allowed to form a union.

“A hundred years ago, the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire struck a deep nerve in the American people, and they demanded reforms which would remake our industrial landscape and guarantee the rights of workers,” Charles Kernaghan, Director of the the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, said in a report titled Triangle Returns. “Now, 97 percent of all garments are made off shore, the vast majority under harsh sweatshop conditions. It is the same with auto parts, computers, cell phones and Barbie dolls. We are racing backward in the global economy, trapped in a Race to the Bottom, competing over who will accept the lowest wages and the most miserable living and working conditions.”

He noted that corporations have acquired numerous intellectual property and copyright laws to protect their products, but that laws to protect those making these products have been rebuffed as a barricade to free trade.

“Something is wrong when the corporate product is legally protected, but not the human being who made it,” Kernaghan said. “We are at a cross roads. We can stand back and allow the corporations to drive this Race to the Bottom. Or, we can fight back.”

Below is video from the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights on their report Triangle Returns:

[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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