Promotion of fundamental labor rights and safe workplaces is a core U.S. value.
Over one hundred years ago, on this day, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in Manhattan. The fire swept through the top floors, too high for ladders to reach. Hundreds of workers, mostly immigrant women and girls threw themselves off window ledges onto the streets below. One hundred and forty-six workers were burned or crushed to death.
The Triangle Fire galvanized hundreds of activists to push for fundamental reforms in the workplace. Frances Perkins, who stood helpless watching the fire, became an even more fearless advocate for workers’ rights. She later became secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Today, hundreds of organizations commemorate the Triangle Fire by redoubling efforts to reform laws to protect the safety of working people. They honor the memory of those workers who died by reaffirming the necessity of safe workplaces.
Despite these formidable efforts, industrial fires continue to occur in many parts of the world. In 2012, dramatic factory fires took the lives of more than 400 workers, mostly women and girls, and drew the scrutiny of major media, governments, civil society, NGOs, international brands, and consumers.
The Obama administration has made strengthening worker rights and the rules governing the global marketplace central to its mission to create more broadly shared prosperity. With the UN Guiding Principles, international labor conventions, and corporate social responsibility values in mind, international buyers are now more substantively engaging with their suppliers. We continue to urge governments to hold accountable those responsible for negligence or abuse. And workers are organizing to make their voices heard.
All stakeholders need to ensure that global supply chains reflect our values — the dignity of work, the right of workers to organize, an end to discrimination, and an end to forced and child labor. These are not just core labor rights; they are human rights.
The United States is playing an active role in moving this ambitious agenda forward, and the Department of State is advancing dialogue among all parties to more adequately assist those who work in challenging industrial environments around the world.
Today, we honor the workers who have died in these tragic fires and are inspired to fight for better safety protections for those who are living.
Cross posted at DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State