Is the Bangladesh Building Collapse the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of This Century?
The nototrious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was New York City's second deadliest disaster until the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. It was also the instigation for significant reforms in working conditions and building safety. According to Wikipedia, as a result of the fire that killed 146 garment workers, "[n]ew laws mandated better building access and egress, fireproofing requirements, the availability of fire extinguishers, the installation of alarm systems and automatic sprinklers, better eating and toilet facilities for workers, and limited the number of hours that women and children could work."
Local authorities and global observers are still trying to sort out who's to blame for the collapse of the Rana Plaza building. "Is it the regulatory framework that let a building with no permit be constructed? The factory owner who forced his employees to work even after cracks in the foundation were found? Or the Western clothing manufacturers that enabled Bangladesh to become the world’s second-largest exporter of cheap clothing?" asks Jake Maxwell Watts in Quartz.
Regardless of who bears primary responsibility, this tragedy and a fire in November that killed more than a hundred garment workers in the country, make it clear that something has to change. As Julfikar Ali Manik, Steven Greenhouse and Jim Yardley note, "The PVH Corporation, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer, have endorsed a plan in which Western retailers would finance fire safety efforts and structural upgrades in Bangladeshi factories — although they first want other companies to sign on."
Let's hope something good can come of the horrendous loss of life.