Kader Industrial, a Hong Kong based company, owned the subject of the "worst fire in industrial history"1. On May 10, 1993, a sweatshop in Bangkok, Thailand collapsed within 20 minutes of being set alight. Allegedly, a worker, Viroj Yusak, carelessly dropped a cigarette butt in a textile storeroom. With locked doors (to dissuade union organisers and potential theives amongst the workers), no alarms, no sprinklers and only fake fire escapes, the factory was a death trap. 188 workers were killed in the sweatshop, and almost 500 suffered injuries. These casualties were attributed not only to the fire itself, but also to the building crushing workers in its collapse. In addition to this, the lack of fire escapes lead to many workers leaping out of fourth floor windows - "that way, they reasoned, their families would at least be able to identify their bodies."2

Of all the toys sold in the United States, 45% are produced in Asia by companies like Kader Industrial.3 This is an indirect result of the branding movement taken up by the larger corporations in the United States - the employment of people to create tangible products have no place in a company that defines itself by its brand, thus the actual creation of products is achieved through sub-contracting.4 Kader's most prominent clients included Toys 'R' Us, J.C. Penney, Fisher-Price, Hasbro and Disney. William Greider observed, "the Kader fire might have been more meaningful for Americans if they could have seen the thousands of soot-stained dolls that spilled from the wreckage, macabre litter scattered among the dead. Bugs Bunny, Bart Simpson and the Muppets. Big Bird and other Sesame Street dolls. Playskool 'Water Pets.'"5

Only 14 males died in the Kader tragedy. As is the case in many sweatshops, most workers were women aged from 17 to 25. (The Zhili factory in Shenzhen, China employed 95% women. Similarly hazardous to the Kader factory, it was the scene of a fire which killed 87 workers later in 1993. This scenario is indicative of the world's apathy towards sweatshops before the mid-90's.) Some Kader workers were as young as 14. Women are presumed to be less headstrong, and more adept at crafts than men. They are hired as temporary staff with no permanent staff benefits, and their terms are renewed constantly over 2 or 3 years after which they are sacked. In this manner, the sweatshops avoid paying maternity leave, and they are free to manipulate workers' hours as is required. In a busy period, workers may be forced to work 20 hours a day and sleep beneath their machines. When work dries up, they starve. This is the most efficient method of employment, and it mirrors Microsoft's ingeniously devised well of "permatemps," who work alongside permanent staff for years and are renewed as temps until they are no longer required.

Even if they had sufficient educations and understood their rights as workers, these people could not defend themselves against sweatshop exploits. An individual uprising may provoke sacking or physical abuse. The formation of unions is not tolerated, and may result in widespread sackings and crackdowns on the workers' freedom. In many of the "industrial zones" where sweatshops are located, normal federal laws do not apply, workers have abnormally reduced rights, and subcontracters like Kader Industrial are given insanely generous tax breaks to "promote the nation's economy".

Archival footage, including powerful images of "the workers' charred bodies, buried under the rubble of collapsed metal and half-sewn dolls"6 has been used in the documentary, Made in Thailand, which also focuses on the Eden Group protests. Both the events covered in Made in Thailand focus specifically on the concerns of the women targetted by the sweatshop industry's employers, many of whom live in dilapidated dormitories with several other women in similar situations. Many have been separated from their families, moving to the poorer Asian provinces to attempt to earn enough to fund their families' migrations ahead of time. It is these financially dependent relationships that suffer the most from sweatshop fatalities: "The Kader tragedy left 92 orphans, children aged between 3 months and 17 years old. A recent study found that some had since dropped out of school and become involved with drugs."7

The Kader Industrial fire never attracted the attention it deserved. The resulting Thai activists were positive that they were not alone, and believed that the developed world would be in uproar about the atrocities committed in sweatshops in lieu of human rights. Only those directly involved with the rights of exploited workers ever stood in Kader's way. The aforementioned Zhili fire which occured later in 1993 is indicative of the world's indifference to the plights of the people who slave to provide material goods to the developed world.

Asian Human Rights Commission: http://www.ahrchk.net/
ILO Safework: http://www.ilo.org/
Web Site for Dignity in Labour: http://www.citinv.it/associazioni/CNMS/
Sweatshop Watch: http://www.sweatshopwatch.org
Thai Labour Campaign: http://www.thailabour.org

1. Naomi Klein, No Logo and Don't! Buy! Thai! - Terror in Toyland, by Bob Herbert, New York Times, 21 December 1994
2. Naomi Klein, No Logo
3. Don't! Buy! Thai! - Terror in Toyland, by Bob Herbert, New York Times, 21 December 1994
4. Naomi Klein, No Logo
5. William Greider, One World, Ready or Not
6. Summary of Made in Thailand, by Eve-Laure Moros Ortega and Linzy Emery
7. Atiya Achakulwisut And Vasana Chinvarakorn, The Bangkok Post, 1 May 2001

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