Being my father’s daughter, his love and knowledge of U.S. labour history made its way deep into the creases of my brain. So I am acutely aware of the events that stand out and acted as turning points in the long and continued struggle for better wages, conditions, and treatment of workers. One such example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, took place in New York City on March 25, 1911, killing 146 women, most of whom were new immigrants and between the ages of 16 and 23. This tragedy prompted new legislation that would help to ensure better safety for sweatshop workers and a shift in what employers could demand of their employees. With this in mind, reading a recent Business Week article, it is hard to understand that the same preventable tragedies still take place, all too often.
“Apparel sold by Spain’s Inditex, the world’s largest apparel company and a pioneer of faster fashion cycles, was found at a factory that caught fire on Jan. 26, killing at least seven people. More than 100 were killed on Nov. 24 at another Bangladeshi plant producing garments for companies including Sears Holdings (SHLD) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT).”
Forward 102 years later, to a different part of the world but to all too familiar circumstances. The high demand for garments still put women in danger of factory fires and other risks of injury and death. The article discusses the perils associated with ‘fast fashion’. The two-week cycle of clothing lines, which helped to make retailers like H&M and Zara global titans of cheap fashion, is directly linked to increased incidents of death for the workers that make this fast production possible.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire helped to change how workers were treated in the 20th century in the U.S. What is powerful enough to change this pattern in Bangladesh and other parts of the world where sweatshops still go unregulated and workers still die in the name of the cheapest, trendiest fashion?