On September 12th, 2012, the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan caught fire. Two hundred eighty nine workers were burned to death or suffocated from inhaling smoke. They couldn’t escape as the doors were illegally locked from the outside and the windows barred in violation of labor standards. The New York Times reported on the front page of its website that this was “one of the worst industrial disasters in history — one that killed nearly twice as many workers as the landmark Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 in New York.”
How could this have happened? It’s been a century since these disasters last happened on such a scale and yet Westerners are still wearing clothes made in sweatshops where hundreds of workers can die from extremely dangerous conditions.
These kinds of tragedies aren’t supposed to happen anymore because there are organizations that go into factories around the world to stop sweatshops. And the Ali Enterprises factory had been monitored numerous times in the year before the fire and been given perfect safety ratings.
The monitoring company, RINA, had visited the factory the week before the fire and had certified it according to international labor code. In December of 2011, UL Responsible Sourcing had also done an audit.
The catch is that nearly all of these factory-monitoring companies are paid to do inspections by the very brands they’re supposedly keeping in line. This is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen-house. As the New York Times noted, “For international rights campaigners, the fact that the factory had been certified by a respected Western organization made clear the failings of a controversial 15-year-old industry initiative.”
So where does USC fit into this?
The University of Southern California relies on the same class of corporate-funded monitors that failed to keep workers safe in Pakistan. In fact, USC uses one of the exact same monitors, UL Responsible Sourcing, who had certified the factory specifically for fire safety just months before the factory burned to the ground.
If USC wants to follow its own stated Workplace Code of Conduct of making sure Trojan apparel is “manufactured in safe work environments that respect worker’s rights,” it should seriously re-think it’s current monitoring policies.
The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) has been pressuring USC to sign onto the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the only major factory monitor in the world that’s funded independently of brands and factories. The WRC has a long record of uncovering labor rights violations and effectively forcing brands promote real worker protections.
SCALE is currently forming a coalition of concerned student groups and circulating a petition to show administration how students care about this issue once they are made aware of it. If you want to be a part of the cause to make sure the global Trojan Family is respected and safe, feel free to email us, like our Facebook page or come to one of our weekly meetings at 6:30 on Wednesdays in VKC 102.