We have all heard that sweatshops are degrading to their workers. According to War on Want, a non-profit organization campaigning for human rights and the end of poverty, “fashion victims” are working nearly 80 hours per week for a stipend of 5p per hour.
With forced overtime and harsh conditions, where is the light at the end of the tunnel for the workers? The conditions of their situation are awful; stuck in a financial whirlwind, sweatshop workers have no other choice but to accept this low wage and unhealthy work load. So when we say that work is killing them, we are speaking figuratively.
Well, not anymore.
On Dec. 14, 2010 outside Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka, a sportswear manufacturing company broke out in fire on the ninth and tenth floors killing 28 of its workers. With blocked escape routes, a lack of an emergency evacuation plan and malfunctioning fire equipment, workers were jumping to their deaths while the others were trampled and suffocated.
This isn’t the first instance either. In January of the same year, another fire broke out leading another 21 Bangladeshi workers to their deaths while injuring another 50.
Fires aren’t the only problem. Perhaps the largest media-covered disaster in the textile industry, the collapse of the nine-story Spectrum-Shahriyar factory in April 2005 killed 64 workers, injured at least 74 and left hundreds jobless. At the time of the collapse, nearly 350 workers were trapped in debris awaiting their rescue. While trapped, oxygen had to be pumped into the wreckage to give fire fighters and rescue teams more time to find the victims.
Local authorities said the building was structurally unsound and improperly constructed for its size. On several occasions, workers had tried to report their concerns about the building. Only days before the incident, a worker reported cracks in the walls, but was dismissed and told to return to work. Although the exact cause of its collapse is still a mystery, it is obvious that the working conditions were unsuitable.
In remembrance of the Spectrum tragedy, a day has been devoted to international workers’ safety and rights, and organizations around the world are making an example out of it.
Sweatshop laborers don’t have the choice to financially survive without their employment. But with working conditions so poor, can they afford to stay at their jobs?