WHAT OTHERS SAY: Low prices can have high costs

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | 11:12 a.m. CST

If accounts from survivors of a deadly garment factory fire over the weekend in Bangladesh are accurate, more than 100 low-wage workers died in large part because of a wanton disregard for their safety.

Workers said managers ordered them back to their machines while a fire alarm was ringing. The building lacked adequate emergency exits, and one that did exist was reportedly locked from the outside. Fire extinguishers apparently were not working.

The deadly fire, which killed at least 112 people outside of the capital city of Dhaka, has implications for U.S. companies. More than 3 million Bangladeshi workers, mostly women, produce garments for major global retailers. The owner of the factory that burned over the weekend has produced goods for Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Ikea and others, according to news reports.

Groups that monitor the garment industry report that more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in fires since 2006. Experts say owners openly flout safety measures.

U.S. companies must not continue to tolerate such reckless abuse of workers.

Wal-Mart officials have not yet said whether the company is currently purchasing goods from Tazreen Fashion, the factory which burned over the weekend, but it has in the past. Wal-Mart inspectors gave the factory a “high-risk” rating after a May 2011 inspection.

Three high-risk ratings in two years would result in a suspension of business. Wal-Mart said it stopped buying from about 50 factories because of fire risks. Still, a two-year grace period seems excessive when human lives are in the balance.

The weekend fire began in a warehouse on the ground floor and spread quickly. About 600 workers were inside. Many were burned beyond recognition; others were fatally injured jumping from windows.

Bangladesh citizens turned out by the thousands after the deaths to protest safety violations. They should not stand alone in their outrage.

U.S. consumers don’t want their clothing produced in potential death traps. Retailers must be much more stringent in cracking down on unsafe factories in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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