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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Dangerous working conditions kill hundreds

Unsafe working conditions and meager wages seem like a distant U.S. memory of the 1900s, but in other parts of the world, these poor conditions remain a reality.

In the global market, various regions contribute to the products for sale and trade. Among those regions are working environments that hold the potential for injury or even death.

This is the case in several factories in India, particularly in the garment industry. Workers in the region endure low wages, high work pressure, frequent overtime and minimal job security.

“In a place like India, labor conditions are bad, unemployment rates are higher, and people decide they’ll just work for themselves, so they won’t have to deal with things like money, plans and labor conditions,” said Jeremy Rinker, visiting assistant professor of peace and conflict studies.

“When we can’t meet the targets, the abuse starts,” Sakamma, a woman working for Texport, a Gap supplier in India, told The Guardian. “There is too much pressure; it is like torture. We can’t take breaks or drink water or go to the toilet. The supervisors are on our backs all the time,” she said.

“They call us donkey, owl (a creature associated with evil), dog and insult us … make us stand in front of everyone, tell us to go and die,” Sakamma said.

A textile factory in Karachi, Pakistan had a similarly unhealthy work environment when it caught fire on Spet. 12, killing 289 people in the flames. This tragedy was named the worst man-made disaster in Pakistan’s history by the National Disaster Management Authority.

Survivors claim that the factory’s emergency exits were locked, leaving no escape for those working inside. Many workers resorted to jumping from high story windows to avoid death. Dangerous chemicals in the factory were released into the air, making the smoke even more dangerous.

“We as Americans should be concerned about those kinds of poor labor conditions, but we are so far removed because of the chain of manufactured industry, that it’s oftentimes subcontracting upon subcontracting,” Rinker said.

More recently, on Nov. 24 a fire swallowed a Bangladesh factory just outside the capital, killing 112 employees.

Though more thorough investigations revealed the fire was arson, many of the deaths were the result of flaws in the factory’s structure itself.  Much like in Karachi, there were few emergency exits in the building, many fire extinguishers didn’t work as they should have, and supervisors urged the workers to stay put, even while alarms were sounding.

“How the factory caught fire, I don’t know. But when we heard ‘fire,’ we all rushed out and we were trying to get out of the factory,” survivor Parul Begum told CNN.

The factory made textiles for a number of labels that are well known in the U.S., including Wal-Mart, Sears and Disney.

This raises a question: Why are these events ignored while so many Americans buy products made in faulty factories by underpaid workers?

“There are even a lot of people who work under contract on the supply chain,” Rinker said.  “Loading stuff, shipping it onto trucks. There’s a whole lot of the supply chain that we don’t ever see. We just see it on a shelf in Wal-Mart, and we purchase it.”

The same issues may have a hold in the U.S. as well.

“Some people would argue that that is a form of forced labor, and these people haven’t been able to find work,” Rinker said.  “The economic downturn has caused more unregulated work and the killing of our labor movement, which has been going on for the last twenty years.”

Poor working conditions directly hinder the safety of employees in poorer regions, but the products of these dangerous practices are enjoyed by more prosperous nations every day. To put an end to unsatisfactory conditions and pay, the global consumer market must take control of the problem and become aware of the origin of their products.

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