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Triangle Returns Young Women Continue to Die in Locked Sweatshops

Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights March 2011

Triangle Returns Young Women Continue to Die in Locked Sweatshops

A Report by Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (Formerly National Labor Committee) Author Charles Kernaghan Research Charles Kernaghan, Barbara Briggs, Cassie Rusnak, Elana Szymkowiak, Robyn Roux, and Megan Will

March 2011

March 2011


On the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Little Has Changed in the Global Sweatshop Economy

Triangle Fire New York City March 25, 1911

Hameem Fire Savar, Bangladesh December 14, 2010

146 Died

29 Died, with over 100 injured, 36 of them seriously

Exit Door Locked

Exit Door Locked

Referring to the locked exit gate, a floor manager responded: How else could you control so many young girls?

At Hameen and other factories, workers told us that security guards are ordered to lock the exit gates during a fire to prevent garments from being stolen in the chaos.

Trapped workers jumped to their deaths from the 9th floor so their parents would have their bodies to bury.

A hundred years later, workers trapped in the Hameem fire jumped to their deaths from the 11th floor so that their parents would have their bodies to properly mourn and bury.

Fire fighters’ ladders could not reach the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the building.

Fire fighters’ ladders could not reach the 9th, 10th and 11th floors of the building.

Worked 6 days a week, often 14 hours a day, with an 8-hour shift on Saturdays.

Worked 7 days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, with an 8-hour shift on Fridays.

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Senior sewing operators earned 14 cents an hour, which in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation, would be $3.18 an hour, $25.44 for an 8-hour shift.

Senior sewing operators earn just 28 cents an hour, $2.24 a day for an 8-hour shift. 100 years after the Triangle fire, garment workers in Bangladesh earn just one tenth as much as the Triangle workers did in 1911. In July 2010, when garment workers in Bangladesh struggled for a 35-cent-an-hour wage, women were attacked, beaten with clubs, shot with rubber bullets and hosed down with powerful water cannons, using a dye so protesting workers could be identified and arrested.

Starting in February 1909, garment workers in New York City struck and won union-only shops in hundreds of garment factories. Triangle management fought to remain non-union. If the Triangle workers had had a union, it is possible the exit would not have been locked, and that far fewer or no workers would have died in the March 25, 1911 fire.

Hameem management had also busted a union organizing drive at their factory in September 2008, imprisoning the union leader and firing 19 of the lead activists. Well over 50 percent of the Hameem workers had signed onto the union’s demands. If Hameem management had not illegally busted the union, the 29 workers might not have died on December 14, 2010. Management continues to illegally outlaw unions at the Hameem factory. Less than 3% of Bangladesh’s garment workers are organized, and only a handful of workers have collective bargaining rights.

The outrage over the deaths of 146 workers at the Triangle factory led to major reforms as dozens of new laws required factory improvements from sprinkler systems to exit doors that open outward and cannot be locked; a minimum wage, limits on working hours, the right to organize, and much more.

After the Hameem fire led to the needless death of 29 workers, there has been no serious investigation, nor is there likely to be one in the future. The owner, Mr. Azad, is a powerful businessman, who also owns a newspaper and TV station. Without the slightest evidence, Mr. Azad simply reported in his newspaper and TV station that the fire ―was the result of sabotage.‖ Unless something changes, workers will continue to be paid starvation wages, forced to work grueling hours, denied the right to organize, and needlessly burned to death in unsafe factories producing major U.S. brands.

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Hospitalized Hameem Workers Describe How They were Trapped by the Locked Exits Worker 1: ―Everyone rushed out and found both exit gates filled with smoke, so dense and dark that we couldn’t see oneself. As we could not pass through the other side gate we retreated and found this gate also locked. We broke open the [window] grill, climbed down from the 11th floor to the ground with a rope [mostly fabric] – many died doing it… some of my coworkers fell down as the rope [fabric] tore off while they tried to climb down…‖

exhaust fan in the wall. We broke it, shoved with a bottle. By Allah’s grace, a fabric was found. I had no clue who tied it, who held it. I slowly began climbing down, reached the 9th floor and the cord fell short. I was unable to climb down farther, nor could I climb up for the 10th floor was blazing… Then somehow, I managed to rest my leg in the pit of an exhaust fan on the 9th floor. My trousers caught fire, but I didn’t lose my grip. Later someone dragged me inside. I had no sense who was there and how many of them. Could not even shout, smoke was coming out of my mouth, could not breathe, my nostrils emitting smoke. Can’t tell how I was admitted to the hospital, who brought me, who led me. My eyes were open but I was senseless as I heard from my relatives. I could not recognize anybody. Later I regained my consciousness.‖

Worker 2: ―Nobody told of any fire. The alarm rang 10 minutes later, long after the smoke arrived. Fire flaring up at every exit we rushed to. The gate at the west, leading to the sample room, was locked. Other open exits were inaccessible due to fire. We could not get out.

Worker 3: ―Those who jumped off the 11th floor did it thinking if they died there the fire would leave no trace of them. If they jumped to their death, their corpse would at least return home.‖

Some jumped to [their] death, six workers. I thought it would take 10 minutes for the fire to burn me to death and my body could never be identified. Better if I jump, my family would at least have my corpse. To save myself… I did not know how or from where, Allah showed a way out. There was an

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March 2011


Hameem Factory Fire he That’s It Sports, LTD Factory, located in Savar, about 16 miles from Dhaka, belongs to the powerful Hameem Apparel Group, which is one of Bangladesh’s largest garment exporters. The Hameem group is owned by Mr. AK Azad, who is also the President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the most important trade association in the country. Mr. Azad owns several large garment factories, along with a newspaper and a television station.


That’s It Sports, LTD Hameem Group Headquarters 241 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka 1208 Bangladesh Phone: 880-2-8825232 880-2-9885029 E-mail:

The That’s It Sports Ltd. Factory is housed in a large 11-story building with 7,000 to 7,500 workers, 80 percent of whom are mostly young women 20 to 25 years of age.

Grueling Working Hours at That’s It Sports Ltd / Hameem:  12 to 14 hour shifts  seven days a week  with one day off a month Standard 12 to 14 hour shift, 7 days a week  8:00 am – 1:00 pm (work / 5 hours)  1:00 pm – 2:00 pm (lunch / 1 hour)  2:00 pm – 5:00 pm (work / 3 hours)  5:00 pm – 8:00 pm or 10:00 pm (overtime / 3 to 5 hours) The workers toil seven days a week, with at most one day off a month. In the month of January 2011, there was no day off at all. The workers are in the peak season now and are routinely at the factory 80 to 90 hours a week, while working at least 70 to 80 hours, including 22 to 32 hours of mandatory overtime. Besides the hour lunch break, the workers receive a 15 minute tea break from 7:00 to 7:15 pm. On Friday, which is supposed to be the weekly holiday, the workers are let out early at 5:00 pm. On average, workers receive one day off a month. It appears that on any given day, half the workers toil to 8:00 pm, while the other half is kept to 10:00 pm.

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March 2011


Starvation Wages Young women sewing $26.95 toddler denim shorts for GAP earn just 20 to 28 cents an hour. J.C.Penney and Phillips-Van Heusen are other major labels sewn at the Hameen Factory.

Helpers Earn 20 Cents an Hour (3066 taka a month) 20 cents an hour $ 1.60 a day (8 hours) $9.62 a week (48 hours) $41.67 a month $500.00 a year Junior Sewing Operators (With less than 3 to 5 years experience - 3860 taka a month) 26 cents an hour $2.04 a day (8 hours) $12.37 a week (48 hours) $53.61 a month $643.33 a year Senior Sewing Operators (With more than five years experience -4218 taka a month) 28 cents an hour $2.24 a day (8 hours) $13.52 a week (48 hours) $50.58 a month $703.60 a year

Including all overtime and the attendance bonus, the most senior sewing operators can earn up to $23.24 to $24.56 a week. (Exchange rate is 72 taka to $1.00 USD)

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GAP Accounts for 50 Percent of Production


ccording to worker estimates, at the time of the deadly Hameem fire in December 2010, GAP accounted for 50 percent of total factory production. A knowledgeable source told us that 400,000 pairs of GAP’s children’s denim shorts were burned in the fire. GAP has also been sourcing production at Hameem for well over a decade.

J.C.Penney and Phillips-Van Heusen accounted for most of the remaining production. But, workers also mentioned sewing garments for Target, VF Corporation, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Only the U.S. apparel companies can inform the American people regarding how much production they had at the Hameem Factory.

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Twenty-nine Workers Died in the Hameem Factory Fire in Bangladesh    

8 workers jumped to their death 10 workers were burned to death 5 died of smoke inhalation 6 died in the hospital of burns

Six of the dead had been working at Hameem for less than two weeks, including one worker who had been at the factory for only two days. Management gave just $2,083.33 in compensation to the families of the dead workers.

Name of worker 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Md. Mozammel Md. Maruf Hossain Ms.Tania Sultana Ms. Anjona Md. Faridul Ms. Halima Md. Ruhul Amin Md. Rasel Shekh Md. Babul Md. Himel Md. Rezaul Ms. Runa Md. Delowar hossain Ms. Munsura Md. Masum khan Md.Selim Reza Md.Shah Alam Md.Sohel Md.Rezaul Mr.Ranju Md.Sujon Ahmed Md.Chan Mia Md.Imran Hossain Md. Abu Sayed Md. Ekamuddin Mukhlesur Rahaman Md. Babul Md. Shahinur Md. Al-Amin Shekh

ID Card 9810 18666 3001 711 913 312 218 6513 12171 12025 13258 3068

7116 5577 762 29953 607 14 1568 2744 3007 8362

Position Loader Operator(OP) OP OP Iron.Man OP OP Sample Man OP OP Packer Man OP OP OP Sample Man Sample Man Sample Man Fe.Q.I Folding Man OP OP Iron.Man Sample Man OP Sample Man OP OP OP Assist. OP

Home District Dinajpur Faridpur Borguna Jamalpur Dinajpur B. Baria Bogura Madaripur Jamalpur Nator Gaibandha Borishal Fharidpur Fharidpur Bagherhat Sirajgong Sirajgong Chuadanga Sirajgong Sirajgong Ranjpur Manikgong Jessore Ranjpur Bagura Jamalpur Mymenshing Bagura Pubna

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Date of Employment 08/05/06 12/04/10 01/12/10 02/17/07 01/10/08 11/01/10 12/08/10 02/12/09 12/20/09 12/09/09 10/11/10 05/09/09 07/18/10 07/06/10 02/11/09 12/01/10 03/03/10 10/16/10 12/10/09 04/08/10 12/12/10 05/03/10 12/08/10 11/24/10

March 2011


Of the over 100 Workers Injured in the Hameem Fire Thirty-six were Hospitalized with Serious Injuries Management gave the seriously injured only $347.22 in compensation.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36.

Name of Worker (under medical treatment) Md. Hasanur Rahman Ms Josna Begum Md. Rajib Md. Shamim Ms Amina Begum Mr. Tushar Sarkar Md.Shahed Hosain Md. Tabibur Rahman Md. Azizul Haq Md. Ershad Md. Anisur Rahman Md. Faruk Miah Md. Zakir Hosain Md. Mojahar Md. Mohiuddin Md. Jainal Ms Jabeda Khatun M/s Roksana Md. Shakil Md. Oashim Md. Azizul Haq Md. Abdul Malek Md. Mokbul Hosain Md. Rasel Md. Shafiqul Md. Milon Hosain Md. Badsha Happy Md. Hakim Md. Habib Md. Akther Hosain Md.Ariful Islam Mr. Shuvo Md. Manik Miah Md. Sujan Ms Shathi

Card No 33 10682 2582 12085 New 1779 12233 Office 4664 1956 7115 1531 5629 3861 2022 1860 742 1557 741 12274 654 23 12169 6101 2604 764 8169 40 768 3308 149 3749

Designation Sample man Assistant Operator Operator Packing man Assistant Operator Operator Operator A. O. Quality Inspector Iron man Packing Supervisor Q.I. Iron mane Operator Q.I. Q.I. Assistant Operator Operator Operator Operator Folding Man Q.I. Sample man Packing man Q.I. Sample man Operator Operator Security Guard Sample Man Supervisor Operator Operator Line Chief Operator Operator

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District Nilphamari Bogra Tangail Narshindi Madaripur Joypur hat Lakhipur Faridpur Barisal Rangpur Gaibandha Gaibandha Gazipur Thakurgaon Meherpur Tangail Rangpur Gazipur Rangpur Kushtia Dinajpur Kushtia Bogra Naogaon Tangail Rangpur Bagerhat Netrakona Mymensingh Patuakhali Munshiganj Khulna Netrakona Netrakona Gaibandha Pabna

March 2011


Locked Exits Lead to Repeated Deaths in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories


he Hameem Factory Fire that resulted in the deaths of 29 workers on December 14, 2010 is not alone in criminally locking emergency exits and recklessly endangering the lives of its workers. 

Emergency exits were also locked at the Garib and Garib Sweater Factory on February 25, 2010, where a fire broke out at 9:30 p.m. killing 21 workers, with 31 others seriously injured. The Garib and Garib Sweater Factory was producing for H&M. On February 23, 2006, at 7:30 p.m., a fire engulfed the KTS Textiles Factory in Chittagong, leaving an estimated 60

workers dead, as the main exit gate was illegally locked. 

At the Chowdhury Knitwear and Garment Factory, 51 workers were burned to death on November 25, 2000, where a fire broke out at 7:30 p.m. The main exit gate was locked trapping the workers with no way out. Among the dead were 10, 12 and 14 year olds.

This will sound unbelievable, but garment workers across Bangladesh have told us managers often instruct security guards to lock the exit gates when a fire breaks out to prevent people from stealing garments in the chaos of the fire!

U.S. Apparel Companies Flock to Bangladesh to Access Cheap Wages Bangladesh’s garment factories are booming, with 3.5 million mostly young women sewing clothing for export to the U.S. and Europe. Bangladesh is now the 3rd largest apparel exporter to the U.S., following just China and Vietnam. In 2010, Bangladesh apparel exports to the U.S. surged 15.3 percent, reaching nearly four billion dollars ($3.93 billion). According to knowledgeable sources, apparel orders in Bangladesh are up nearly 30 percent in just the last three months. Factory owners are speaking of adding another million workers or more. More than 97 percent of all apparel purchased in the United States is imported, often made under harsh sweatshop conditions.

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Afterword By Charles Kernaghan


hundred years ago, the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire struck a deep nerve in the American people, and they demanded reforms which would remake our industrial landscape and guarantee the rights of workers. Laws were passed demanding automatic sprinkler systems, exits that opened outward and could not be locked, and mandatory fire drills. Wall Street and the factory owners fought back, but they lost. The 146 workers killed at Triangle did not die in vain. The progressive reforms continued over the next 40 years. By 1938, sweatshops were wiped out in the U.S. Minimum wage law were in place. There were limits on working hours and timeand-a-half for overtime work. By the 1950s, 34 percent of all American workers were organized, and the middle class was built. We worked hard, and our lives improved. Now, 97 percent of all garments are made off shore, the vast majority under harsh sweatshop conditions. It is the same with auto parts, computers, cell phones and Barbie dolls. We are racing backward in the global economy, trapped in a Race to the Bottom, competing over who will accept the lowest wages and the most miserable living and working conditions. th

Just three months shy of the 100 anniversary of the Triangle fire, on December 14, 2010, a fire broke out at the Hameem factory in Bangladesh, which was sewing garments for Gap. The fire alarms did not go off, and the emergency exits were locked on the 9th floor, killing 29 workers—many of whom jumped to their deaths—and injuring over 100. At Hameem, the workers toil 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with just a single day off a month. The

highest wage at Hameem is 28 cents an hour-less than one-tenth of what the Triangle workers earned 100 years ago! (Adjusted for inflation, the 14 cents an hour they earned in 1911 is worth $3.18 an hour today.) The garment workers in Bangladesh are trapped in misery, living in makeshift hovels. Hameem management busted a union organizing drive at their factory in September 2008, imprisoning the union president and firing all 19 of the lead activists. It did not matter that well over half of the workers supported the union’s demands. When the workers in Bangladesh took to the streets in July 2010 demanding a 35-cent-anhour wage, they were beaten with clubs. The police shot rubber bullets and used powerful water cannons to sweep the workers off their feet. There was dye in the water so that demonstrating workers could be identified and imprisoned later. We are at a cross roads. We can stand back and allow the corporations to drive this Race to the Bottom. Or, we can fight back. The United States is still the largest economy and market in the world. This gives the American people a powerful voice, if we choose to use it. Corporations have demanded and won all sorts of laws—intellectual property and copyright laws—to protect their products, which are backed up by sanctions. Anyone making a knock-off of Gap’s toddler denim shorts, which

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March 2011


were made in the Hameem sweatshop, will be sued and end up in jail. However, when we ask the companies if we can have similar laws to protect the rights of the human being who makes the product, they respond, ―No! That would be an impediment to Free Trade!‖ Something is wrong when the corporate product is legally protected, but not the human being who made it. And the corporate leaders must be laughing all the way to the bank. Working together with the United Steelworkers union, religious organizations, students and other activists, we drew up worker rights legislation which for the first time ever will hold corporations accountable to respect local labor laws in the U.S. and internationally. The legislation is very simple. Corporations must adhere to the local labor laws, including minimum wage levels, in the countries where they are producing. This should be no problem, as every company says they already do this. Have you ever heard a company say they are violating local labor laws? In addition, under the legislation, corporations will be held accountable to respect the core ILO internationally recognized worker rights standards—no child or forced labor, decent working conditions, freedom of association, the right to organize a union and bargain collectively. Here too, this should not be a problem, since the companies say they strictly adhere to the International Labor Organization’s worker rights standards.

The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act is very simple. Corporations can produce goods and services anywhere in the world. But if they violate local labor laws in the countries they are producing, then their goods cannot be imported to the U.S., sold here or exported. The same is true of the core ILO labor rights standards. If the ILO standards are violated, the product cannot be imported, sold or exported from the U.S. When the USW introduced the jobs bill in the 110th Congress, the were 175 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate, including Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton. A Harris Poll showed that 79 percent of the people surveyed supported the proposed labor rights legislation. There is even a precedent for such legislation. When Congress was alerted that garment manufacturers in China were producing winter jackets for sale at the Burlington Coat Factory stores, and that the fur collars were made of dog and cat fur, Congress went ballistic. No one would kill dogs and cats on their watch! In no time, they passed the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000, which prohibits the import, sale or export of dog and cat fur from the U.S. Now we need to give the same legal protections to workers in the global economy. This is our time to act, and the worker rights legislation is our vehicle.

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Triangle Returns: Young Women Continue to Die in Locked Sweatshops  
Triangle Returns: Young Women Continue to Die in Locked Sweatshops  

Workers are again trapped and burned to death behind locked exit gates. One hundred years ago, the outrage over the Triangle fire led to the...