The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire — the worst industrial catastrophe in the United State's history, where 146 workers died because of unfit working conditions — is taught in school, known by everyone, and an important part of the American story. Today, a good portion of the clothing that gets produced for United States consumption happens beyond our borders in developing nations such as China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, in which many factories need to subscribe to international safety standards and regular audits, but many more fall into unsafe and inhuman practices.
Earlier this week, 264 workers died in a factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan — the most casualties in a single fire within the country. The factory manufactured jeans and garments for U.S. and European consumption. What conflated the boiler explosion (which started because of illegal electrical connections) were because of situations similar to The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire: locked exits, poor fire extinguishing mechanisms, and a lack of emergency doors and stairways. People in the upper floors attempted to break the windows and pry open bars, while those in the basement had no chance at escape and died of smoke inhalation.
Pakistani officials are currently looking for the three owners who are being charged in the country with attempted murder and criminal negligence. According to officials, fires had been happening yearly, but no one had looked into it.
The aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire spurred worker reform, factory safety standards, and the development of unions, legislations, and regulations that helped change the landscape of the U.S. garment industry, and it seems that Pakistan will be forced to make such steps, as well.
Yesterday, The International Labor Organization has called for the nation to improve workplace-safety conditions, and there is already pressure within the United States to implement legislation that forces companies that outsource labor to require their foreign factories to abide by U.S. labor laws or be submitted to an import ban. Within Karachi, discussions surrounding the fire department's lack of up-to-date equipment and ineffective factory inspections will hopefully instigate institutional changes. (WWD)
Photo: Via Syed Abbas Mehdi/WWD