The fires in two clothing factories in Pakistan on August 12, 2012, where locked exit doors and lack of safety inspections helped fuel the flames of death for over 300 people, has similarity with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York (147 deaths) in March of 1911, and the chicken factory fire in Hamlet, N.C. (54 deaths) in 1991. Both sites had locked exit doors that trapped workers. Two brothers owned the Triangle factory and two brothers owned the factories in Pakistan. Garment workers jumped to their deaths in New York and workers in Pakistan were forced to jump out of upper-floor windows to try to escape the flames. It was reported that Punjab province safety inspections were abolished in 2003 to develop a more “business friendly environment,” and the Hamlet factory had never been inspected in 11 years of operation.
The latest news is that the factories that burned in Pakistan were allegedly inspected just weeks before the fires by Social Accountability International (SAI), a nonprofit monitoring group that gets much of its financing from corporations. Western companies (like Gap and Gucci), who make clothes in Pakistan and other countries where the labor is cheap, relied on SAI to give them some peace of mind about working conditions, but the total failure of SAI to do it the job is evident. Either it was sleep walking while doing inspections and just going through the motions, or it was just a front for major corporations.
In the United Sates, as we strive to downsize government in the years ahead, we need to keep in mind that government regulations concerning safety must be enforced. If not, safety everywhere will become an issue – on the highway, in the products we use and the food we eat – and we may similarly find ourselves, or a family member, trapped in a deadly situation, with no way out.