100 years of magical thinking
Yet another overseas factory burns, killing workers. Have we learned nothing in the last hundred years? Considering the Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911), all we’ve done is push tragedy farther from us -where we can conveniently forget about it, competing as it does with a new week’s news.
I don’t know what incenses me more, here’s a partial list:
- Diddy’s licensee tells shareholders this won’t affect the bottom line
- The facility had been flagged for violations repeatedly by compliance officers from Sears, Wal-mart, Target and Disney.
- The factory owner claims he didn’t know he was supposed to have emergency exits
I think I’ll run with the last one because it hits closer to home.
I know how this plays out. Many of you rest easy because your offshore factory is small [you don't have the scale to hire a larger factory so you feel you've dodged a bullet]. Tragedy of this scale is unlikely to affect you because your factory has a lot fewer workers and worst case, they can jump out of the single story (ground floor) windows. What this really means is that the innumerable small factory fires that occur each year, killing however many workers annually far in excess of this most recent one, don’t get the same air time. Five here, seven there, who is counting?
We don’t know how many die in clothing factory fires each year but 80% of Bangladeshi exports consist of sewn products; it is the single largest segment of their economy. The BSS (Bangladesh news agency) says that 6,000 of their people die each year in factory fires. Presuming the export industry is no more magically protected than other segments of their economy, this could mean thousands of people in Bangladesh die in export business related factory fires. Again, these are totals gleaned from the multitude of small fires, death counts too low to attract international media attention -and this is just one country. We collectively mourn the tragedy of 112 deaths; where is the outrage over 6,000? Who knows how many there are worldwide?
The only difference between many start ups and established firms is but a matter of scale. How many start ups aspire to meeting MOQ required to hire an offshore facility where costs are so much lower? How many start ups are equally uninformed about their legal obligations? How many people think that they can avoid a sweatshop by hiring another small business?
I know that running a business can be overwhelming; willfully and selectively ignoring details competing for your attention can become a sanity saving strategy. You tell yourself you’re not culpable if you didn’t know -CPSIA is one item that comes to mind. You hope the government won’t hold your feet to the flame if you didn’t. It is your job to know. If you don’t, you’re no different from that factory owner who didn’t know he was supposed to have emergency exits. The scary thing is, maybe nobody told him -so why was that? His people knew he wouldn’t listen or he wouldn’t want to know? How many people have told you things you didn’t want to hear? None? What have you tuned out? How many times has someone told you what you needed to hear but you went elsewhere rather than to deal with a nag? You can’t outsource your responsibility. The buck stops with you.
I don’t think there is a fail safe. Larger firms are not so much more inept than you are; they have formidable resources and competencies to vett facilities yet problems still arise. You don’t have the funding, access or compliance resources they do so how are you magically protected? Unless you’re lucky enough to develop a relationship with a good facility (that you are not going to find in any online directories), you either need to keep your production at arm’s length or you need to start your own factory.
The buck must stop somewhere. If your name is on it, it is your responsibility.
You need to start manufacturing yourself. Period.
Why you should start your own sewing factory pt.1
Why you should start your own sewing factory pt.2
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.1
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.2
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.3
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt.1
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt.2
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt.3