Working for Wal-Mart sucks worse than shopping there. One minute you're sweating your ass off from sewing together pieces of fleece active-wear in a stuffy, locked factory; the next minute you're still sweating, but now it's because you're burning to death. Yes, slaving 12 hours a day under shitty conditions for $4 a week was bad enough, but nowadays Wal-Mart workers face possible death.
Just last Tuesday night, a fire in a Wal-Mart factory claimed the lives of 51 or 65 workers, depending on whether AP or Reuters did a better job of counting charred remains. Imagine being among the 500 mostly women workers, clawing for the one exit while the flames raged around you. You can't. Neither can I. That's why we have sweatshops in the first place-failure of enough people to imagine a world without them and try to bring it about.
What are you talking about, D.A.? Wal-Mart doesn't have factories. Its fleece active-wear grows on trees in the Wal-Martian forests of rural Arkansas, where electronic Wal-Martians scoop them up and flush them into the massive underground network of vacuum ducts that distributes goods to local Wal-Mart like blood vessels pumping sweet, sweet heroin to the pleasure glands of America. Why, there haven't been factory apparel jobs in the U.S. for ages!
You're only half right. Many of those factories, like the K.T.S. Component and Textile Factory, where the workers burned to death, have reappeared in a magical land called Bangladesh, which sounds kind of like Shangri-La, but it isn't so nice there because women workers get beaten or raped or have burning acid thrown at them, or get crushed under collapsed roofs, or burn to death.
The way it worked was this: a cadre of sinister, corporate multinationals, in order to efficiently transport those factories all the way to South Asia, hired corrupt scientists to help them blast the factories through a wormhole in the space-time continuum, or some shit like that, and out they came in Chittagong, Bangladesh: American factories circa 1911-the year of the New York Triangle garment factory fire, which killed 146 and sparked a series of major reforms. As in last week's K.T.S. fire, American Triangle factory workers were mostly young women, laboring in outrageously bad conditions for low wages, locked inside an unsafe sweatshop, where they were trapped and died or suffered serious injuries in the fire. And 20th-century reforms don't mean dick when companies like Wal-Mart, the largest purchaser of clothes made in Bangladesh, take no responsibility for what happens in the factories where their clothes are made.
To be fair, none of the news reports has specifically named Wal-Mart as a purchaser of K.T.S. clothing, but they do report that K.T.S. supplied mostly U.S. companies, and Wal-Mart is the largest purchaser of textiles from Bangladesh. Until I'm proven wrong, the burnt ruin was a Wal-Mart factory.
Hey, man, isn't that how the kalojam crumbles? Those people need jobs. A Wal-Mart job in Bangladesh is better than a gig as a sex worker (the other main outside-the-home employment option for Bangladeshi women).
You're right, but you've also proven my point: failure of imagination is the problem. Look at what the Cornell University Triangle Fire Project tells us about the reaction to the Triangle Fire:
"The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union proposed an official day of mourning. The grief-stricken city gathered in churches, synagogues and, finally, in the streets.... The people demanded restitution, justice and action that would safeguard the vulnerable and the oppressed. Outraged cries calling for action to improve the unsafe conditions in workshops could be heard from every quarter, from the mainstream conservative to the progressive and union press.... Within a month of the fire the governor of New York State appointed the Factory Investigating Commission. For five years, this commission conducted a series of statewide hearings that resulted in the passage of important factory safety legislation."
Imagine that! People, outraged over injustice, took to the streets, leading to positive change. Sure, sweat shops remained in the U.S., but prior to the Triangle Fire, things were worse, with child labor, little unionization and zilch for workers' rights. And the Bangladesh fire, I reiterate, is the same fire!
You might think: what an opportunity to make martyrs of those lives lost in the fire, symbolizing the tragic human cost of Wal-Mart's greed and power. The sickening exploito-conglomerate is already universally recognized as king pimp of greedy corporations, pitting sub-contractors all over the globe in a battle to the bottom, where the lowest paying, worst employment practices squeeze maximum profit from the labor of the exploited.
Yeah, dude, could the K.T.S. fire be our 21st-century Triangle moment?
Dream on. The K.T.S. fire was a drop in the Bangladeshi-factory-fuckup bucket. In the AP report on the fire, they cite a textile official's estimate that more than 350 workers have been killed and some 2,500 injured in garment factory fires in Bangladesh since 1990. And remember a few months back when a couple dudes got electrocuted at the K.T.S. factory and it barely made a sentence in the Bangladesh Observer, which didn't go into detail about their deaths, or who was at fault, or whether the company did anything about it?
Naw, man, I never even heard of the Bangladesh Observer.
Well, you must remember last April when 73 workers died in Palash Bari-you know, when the factory roof fell on them?
Sounds familiar. Could you pass the remote?
Come on, I know it's hard to imagine Americans getting active and heroic over this latest fire, but your heart is in the right place, and there are lots of labor organizers and human-rights groups out there. Some economists even suggest that things can only get better globally as more and more countries develop.
But you've totally bummed me out! It's just no consolation that in the year 2877 we might have a decent international standard of living. Think of those people suffering in that fire. It sickens me to imagine them. I need to watch American Idol, right now. Isn't there some kind of quick fix to make me feel better?
Well, you could donate money or do volunteer work, but you probably won't. I'll tell you what you can do. Buy some gear from Global Exchange or even American Apparel (which isn't perfect, but a hell of a lot better). It won't solve the problem, but it's moving in a better direction. I can imagine you doing that.Write to email@example.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.