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Workplace safety: Avoiding the fire next time

May 2, 2013

THE fire that swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York in 1911, killing 146 people, was the catalyst for big improvements in industrial working conditions in America. The collapse on April 24th of Rana Plaza?an eight-storey complex of clothing factories, near Dhaka, Bangladesh?was far deadlier, killing at least 400. Although the tragedy has led to calls for safer factories in Bangladesh and other developing countries, it is far from certain that this will happen.After the New York fire, protests by trade unionists led to new laws being passed, and enforced. Factory owners and their customers took the higher costs on the chin: in those less globalised times there was nowhere else for them to go. In Bangladesh today, things are more complicated. Its trade unions are suppressed more aggressively than they ever were in America. It already has building regulations that should have prevented the collapse?but they were not enforced. Some two dozen factory owners are members of parliament. The factories? foreign customers have plenty of other low-cost countries they could switch their work to.Some well-known American firms are said to be contemplating doing...

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