In the last three years, more than 1,300 apparel workers have died in Bangladesh in six separate mass-fatality disasters. Thousands have been injured. All of these workers died in factories producing for major Western apparel brands and retailers, including Gap, Walmart, VF Corp. (owner of Nautica, Wrangler, Timblerlan, Jansport and other brands), JC Penney and numerous others. All of these companies have claimed for years that they have robust inspection systems in place to police their contract factories and protect the rights and safety of workers. 

Have these programs failed because apparel corporations were unaware of the dangers in Bangladesh? Clearly not; apparel brands and retailers have been aware of the risks facing apparel workers in Bangladesh, both from fires and building collapses, for many years. In 2005 and 2006, for example, two building collapses and four fires took the lives of more than 200 workers, including an infamous building collapse at a factory called Spectrum Sweater in which 64 died. At the time, the depth of the problem was widely acknowledged by brands and retailers, factory owners and the Bangladesh government, and vigorous reforms were promised. 

Have these programs failed because brands and retailers don't understand what steps are necessary to make factories in Bangladesh safe? The answer, obviously, is no. Since the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the fundamentals of fire and building safety in an industrial setting have been well understood by the apparel industry. 

Are these programs failing because of subcontracting of orders, with Bangladeshi suppliers evading the brands' inspection efforts by sending part of their work out to unauthorized factories that escape scrutiny? This explanation is a popular one with apparel brands and retailers, since it allows them to deny direct responsibility, but the facts show otherwise. With one exception, every one of the factory buildings in which workers have died in fires and collapses in Bangladesh since 2010 had been repeatedly inspected by industry monitors. These were not subcontract factories flying beneath the industry's radar.