Hamlet Imperial Foods Plant disaster survivor Conester Player once reflected in a documentary about that catastrophic day, “I’ve been to hell, you know, but God spared me and brought me back.”
I believe some of the survivors at last Sunday’s Tazreen Fashion Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, would agree with Conester.
The Imperial Foods workers kicked and banged on locked exit doors in attempts to escape. Video footage reveals smudged handprints smeared with the soot and ashes from the burning plant. The doors were reportedly locked to keep employees from taking too many smoke breaks and to prevent chicken thefts within the plant. Survivors’ reports include, but are not limited to, having never been through a fire or safety drill; no masks to cover their faces as they worked; as well as low wages for new and veteran plant workers. In addition, these Hamlet, NC, workers dealt with locked exit doors, which compromised safety and harsh treatment from plant managers and the owner, Emmett Roe. Imperial Foods survivors described being “talked to like a dog” by those in charge and being told to “pick up chicken off the floor” to be prepared for consumers.
As millions of consumers flooded Wal-Mart this past Friday, hundreds of employees protested for reasons ranging from “troubling” working conditions and low pay to unpredictable work schedules. Compared to the catastrophe at the Imperial Foods Plant where 25 people died and 56 people were injured after an explosion in the plant, the reasons these current Wal-Mart employees cited for protesting are laughable. Compared to the carnage at the Dhaka, Bangladesh’s Tazreen Fashion Factory this past Sunday, these Wal-Mart employees’ reasons for protesting are despicable. A Reuters report indicated that working conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of safety laws, and overcrowding and locked fire doors are common.
Imperial Foods survivor Ada Blanchard said, “Putting the money before the life will never happen again.” Now used in OSHA training sessions, there are regulations that plant managers must follow to prevent such tragedies as the one in Hamlet. Unfortunately, the regulations in third world countries are drastically different and, in some cases, nonexistent.
19 of the workers who died in the Imperial Foods Plant were single mothers. Most of the 100+ workers at Bangladesh’s Tazreen Fashion Factory were women, and both of these plants indisputably had poor working conditions. However, in both plants, they still worked because they had to. Imperial Foods survivor Mary Bryant said, “When you got three or four children and that’s all the income you have, you can put aside what he said and do the work.”
An economist could number crunch to be on the side of the protesters citing the overall profit from a retail giant such as Wal-Mart which could give some credibility to these workers’ complaints. However, compared to the unthinkable working conditions at Imperial and Tazreen, how could the problems voiced by a few upset Wal-Mart employees be any worse than these massive losses of human lives due to negligence, greed, and lack of compassion?
A sad irony in this Bangladeshi plant inferno this past weekend is that the 100+ workers who perished were locked in a factory making clothes in dreadful conditions for…you guessed it…Wal-Mart.