A New York-based garment maker that sells clothing to companies like Wal-Mart, Sears and K-Mart paid out $30 million recently to the survivors of 14 Mexican workers who died in a 1997 bus accident as they traveled to a “maquiladora” clothing factory. The Salant Corporation, which has about $400 million in annual sales, agreed to settle the lawsuit that rose out of a fiery crash of a 1983 school bus carrying 26 Mexican workers to a Salant factory one hour south of Brownsville, TX. “This tragedy happened, in part, because of a run-down school bus that Salant purchased for $6,000 and did not bother to furnish with basic safety equipment or adequately maintain,” the lawyer for the workers told newsPRos Strategic Communications. “They didn’t even train the driver who had no prior experience, didn’t own his own car, and never had a driver’s license prior to driving the bus.” In total, 26 people were killed or injured, most of them from small Mexican villages. The $30 million will be paid by Salant’s insurance companies, Cigna, Hartford, and Chubb. “Just because wages are less in Mexico,” said one of the family members, “it does not mean that foreign companies should compromise on safety”. The legal case took more than 2 years of court battles to win. Salant’s legal team including a dozen lawyers, 3 law firms, including 2 former Texas Supreme Court justices.
Salant contracted with its subsidiary Maquiladora Sur, a Mexican corporation that owned clothing factories. Salant has since closed its division, Texas Apparel, but at the time of the accident Texas Apparel made clothing for companies like Wal-Mart. This is the answer to the question: “How can these prices be so cheap?” The cheap goods found in chain stores are a product of exploitation that stretches from the maquiladora factories in Mexico to the local Wal-Mart in your community. These Mexican workers were literally dying to make our clothes. It is these kinds of substandard working conditions across the globe that have caused protests at the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. One family in this crash lost 5 children, including two 16 year old twin sisters. Unsafe vehicles, unsafe drivers. The lawsuit charged Salant with gross negligence. But it is really our negligence as consumers that allows such substandard working conditions to imperil the lives of workers in developing countries who stitch and sew our underwear and jeans. Whenever we patronize the stores that import these goods, we are supporting the conditions that exploit them. All nations should protect their worker’s with decent working conditions, including safe transportation to and from the factories.