A clothing factory in Bangladesh that has ties to Wal-Mart suffered a massive fire Saturday that left at least 118 factory workers dead and scores injured. Wal-Mart is the largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh, which has a notoriously poor fire-safety record and has long suppressed workers’ attempts to improve their conditions. The building was a factory operated by Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which supplies Wal-Mart, IKEA and other major retailers in the United States and Europe. The factory made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts. We speak to Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which investigates conditions in factories around the world. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring our next guest into this conversation with another story related to Wal-Mart, Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. And I want to talk a little about what happened in Bangladesh. A clothing factory in Bangladesh that has ties to Wal-Mart suffered a massive fire Saturday that left at least 112 factory workers dead, scores injured. The building was a factory operated by Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which supplies Wal-Mart, IKEA and other major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. The factory made polo shirts, fleece jackets, T-shirts. Scott Nova is executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which investigates conditions in factories around the world.
Welcome to Democracy Now! What happened on this weekend? What happened in this fire?
SCOTT NOVA: This is a large factory that caught fire early evening on Saturday. Workers were working overtime producing goods to be rushed out for the Christmas shopping season. The blaze spread quickly through the first two floors of the factory. The upper floors of this tall building filled with smoke. And because there are no fire escapes, because the only way out of the factory was through stairwells leading to the bottom floor, many workers were trapped on the upper floors. As you noted, at least 112 died, a number of them leaping off of the building to escape the smoke and flames.
AMY GOODMAN: Its connection to Wal-Mart, Scott?
SCOTT NOVA: Wal-Mart was using that factory to produce goods for its Faded Glory brand. It’s important to note, Wal-Mart is the biggest buyer of apparel in Bangladesh, which is now the second-largest apparel producer in the world after China. And Bangladesh got to that position by giving companies like Wal-Mart exactly what they want, which is the cheapest labor costs in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Wal-Mart actually cited this factory.
SCOTT NOVA: Indeed, Wal-Mart itself discovered problems at the factory in 2011, problems that were unspecified in the report that’s been published. But apparently Wal-Mart took no action to address those problems. And, of course, we saw the results of that inaction on Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Aminul Islam, the Bangladeshi labor activist who helped expose working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, who was brutally murdered this April, his body found outside the city of Dhaka and showed signs of torture, with his ankles and big toes having been smashed. Islam was arrested two years ago and tortured by police and intelligence services for protesting the garment industry’s low wages—former factory worker himself. You knew him?
SCOTT NOVA: Yes, someone we worked with over a number of years, a very courageous labor organizer who was helping workers organize themselves to try to address the sub-poverty wages and dangerous working conditions in that country. And, of course, those conditions lead to mass protest on a regular basis. The government cannot acknowledge that the reason for that protest are the low wages and brutal conditions, so they scapegoat organizers like Aminul Islam, blame them for the unrest, and target them.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a fire again today.
SCOTT NOVA: Yet another fire this morning in Bangladesh at a factory also producing for Wal-Mart, as well as Kmart and other major Western retailers. So far, eight workers have been identified as having been injured, unclear whether any died—hopefully not. A similar fire spread through the first floor of the building, smoke throughout the building, some workers rescued off of the roof.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have seconds, but, Scott, can you talk about whether the protests we’re seeing here in the United States are internationalizing? Are they making connections to places like Wal-Mart in Bangladesh, the factory?
SCOTT NOVA: Well, what we see is two sides of the same coin: brutal labor practices here by Wal-Mart in the U.S. and also brutal labor practices in its supply chain overseas. And you see workers mobilizing in Bangladesh around their working conditions, just as you see workers mobilizing here in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, and Josh Eidelson, contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, Salon and In These Times.