Over the last few weeks, working conditions in Bangladesh have made headlines around the world. After the April 24th tragedy when an eight-story factory near Dhaka collapsed, killing over 1,000 people and injuring about 2,500, many questioned how factory owners and business executives are still able to choose to endanger the lives of their workers for the sake of cheap labor. If their own personal ethics can’t stop them, one would have hoped that worker protection laws would.
Child labor and sweatshops are a regular part of HEART’s curricula. Students learn about how, around the world, people are still forced to work in dangerous conditions and children, instead of going to school, are put to work. When one of our educators, Kim Korona, heard the news about the tragedy in Bangladesh, she talked about it with her students who had just learned about sweatshops three weeks earlier.
The students responded, “That is similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that happened here in New York when the owner locked the workers in the building.” They also said, “How could something like that happen again, today?”
Kim said about the discussion, “The students could not believe that this type of negligence and tragedy could happen because we should have learned from the past.”
In our experience, many children are familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the most famous examples of the dangers of sweatshops, but many don’t know that workers continue to be oppressed by their employers in sweatshops in the USA and beyond. Learning about such a recent example of sweatshops and how many people lost their lives prompted these students to think more deeply about where their clothes come from and how they can help protect people they have never even met.
Kim said about the students’ reactions, “They realized that the clothes the garment workers were making in Bangladesh were clothes that would most likely be sold in the United States and they were sad to think of the workers dying to make clothes for people in this country. They felt empathy for the workers who lost their lives and many said that the working conditions should be safe and the pay should be fair for all people, no matter where they live.”
We wrote recently about the importance of bringing current events into the classroom, even when those events are as devastating as what happened to the workers in Bangladesh. It’s vital that students, as well as all people, know the realities behind the things they buy so that they can make fully informed decisions. HEART strives to provide students with the knowledge and tools to make ethical choices based on their own personal beliefs. After learning about sweatshops and the building collapse in Dhaka, the students in Kim’s class will certainly be thinking differently when they go to the store.