By Kim Smiley
At least 112 were killed in a fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh on November 25, 2012. Officials are still investigating what caused the fire, but many disturbing facts about the disaster have already come to light.
This fire can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis. When constructing a Cause Map, the first step is to fill in an Outline that lays out the basic facts of the incident. The impacts to the goal are also listed in the Outline and are used as the first box in the Cause Map. The Cause Map visually lays out the different things that contributed to an issue and shows the cause-and-effect relationship between the different causes. In this example, the safety goal was the focus because of the number of lives lost.
So many lives were lost because people were working in the garment factory, there was a fire in the factory, workers were unable to quickly leave the factory and the fire burned for a long time. People were working in a garment factory because this type of factory work is very common in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of garments and work in the industry is one of the main sources of stable income available. About a third of the population of Bangladesh lives in extreme poverty. Many of the garment workers are also women, who have limited options for employment. Investigators have not determined what started the fire, but some government officials have speculated that it may have been arson or sabotage. Workers were unable to get out of the factory quickly because there was only one exit and the stairways were partially blocked by piles of garments. There were no emergency exits or fire escapes. The fire burned all night because it was difficult for fire fighters to reach the factory because it wasn’t easily accessible by vehicles.
As sad as this story is, it was nearly a much worst tale. It was after normal working hours and many workers had already left the factory. About 1,500 workers were employed at the factory, but only 600 workers remained working overtime.
The factory produced garments for Western companies such as Disney, Sears and Wal-Mart. It is not clear if companies were aware that their products were being produced in dangerous conditions and there is some confusion with the use of subcontractors, but this fire raises difficult questions. What responsibility do companies have to the workers producing their clothing? Thousands of garment workers have protested demanding justice for those killed. This issue is farther complicated by the fact that some workers are grateful for the work and willing to work in substandard conditions because it’s better than the alternatives.
This issue is also reminiscent of a fire that killed 146 garment workers in 1911 in New York City. The public outrage following the 146 deaths helped lead to many improvements in worker safety in the United States. Click here to view a previous blog on this incident.