Editorial: A disaster that could’ve been avoided

Apr. 25, 2013 @ 07:33 PM

Few things are as tragic as a disaster that people can see coming, yet do nothing to avoid it.

On Wednesday, a world away from us in Bangladesh, an eight-story building that housed textile factories collapsed in the city of Savar. At least 230 people died.

According to an Associated Press article, workers had complained about cracks in the structure. Some were afraid to go inside. The troubling conditions even drew the attention of local media.

But workers were assured: It was safe.

Little seems safe about the sprawling garment industry in Bangladesh. Less than five months ago, a factory fire killed more than 100 people.

On April 15, it’s alleged, two Chechen immigrants set off a pair of bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and killed three people. No one saw that coming and our nation was appropriately shocked.

Even if it was thousands of miles away, we should be even more appalled by the resulting toll of the disaster in Bangladesh.

It was a known issue. Officials saw those growing cracks, proof of the building’s instability. Perhaps nothing could have saved the building. Maybe its collapse was inevitable. But lives could have been saved and injuries could have been prevented by condemning the structure and keeping people out of it.

Instead, they were put in harm’s way in the name of commerce. The dead and wounded worked on clothes for textile companies such as Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd.

Those companies make clothes for stores that many of us shop at, such as Dress Barn, The Children’s Place and possibly even Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the second-largest clothing producer in Bangladesh, is looking into whether a factory in the building was producing for the chain at the time of the disaster, spokesman Kevin Gardner told the AP.

“We remain committed and are actively engaged in promoting stronger safety measures and that work continues,” he said.

We’ve got our doubts about the prospects for safer factories in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world, when companies are more concerned about their bottom lines.

But we hope the search for justice in Bangladesh is as thorough as it appeared to be in Boston.

This tragedy in Bangladesh is a horrifying reminder of the treacherous conditions that poorly paid people must endure so that we can buy inexpensive pants and shirts.