THE APRIL 24 collapse of a garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 1,125 people. That tragedy followed a fire that killed 112 last November at a factory making goods for companies including Walmart. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, at least 1,800 garment workers in Bangladesh have died in fires or other factory disasters since 2005. The collapse near Dhaka is the largest disaster in that time and the one that has gotten global attention.
As a Dominican Catholic sister and member of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, I approach reflection on such a disaster from the foundation of Catholic social teaching. Each of the social principles below relates to the situation in Bangladesh and challenges us to reflect on our own regard for those who provide our clothing.
- Life and dignity of the human person. Story after story of the people who work in the garment industry shows the lack of respect for workers. Long hours, few to no breaks, prevalent verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, and now the collapse of a factory—do we need any more proof that human life is held in so little regard? Many years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called for an understanding of “respect life” as inclusive of human life “from womb to tomb.” Our upholding of life must include working toward changing factory conditions so that a debacle such as Dhaka never happens again.