For many years, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society held an annual fair that sold only goods that weren’t made by slaves.
Starting in 1835, the fair was a popular weeklong event stocked with items sewed by society members and donated by anti-slavery women in the U.S. and England. The organizers, a racially mixed group of female abolitionists, raised money to fund abolitionist efforts and anti-slavery newspapers.
The fair was a high-profile effort to sway public opinion, as masterfully chronicled by Carol Faulkner’s book, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy. Faulkner describes how Mott, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist, championed the fair’s influence far beyond its commercial success:
Like her anti-slavery sisters in Boston, Mott viewed the fairs as a way of awakening moral sensibilities. She described the fairs, and the funds they raised, as ‘a means of spreading the truth, which is our only reliance and hope, and in which we have full confidence to bring in the millennial day of liberty and brotherhood.’
If there is to be justice for the tens of thousands of low-paid garment workers in Bangladesh risking their lives to make the clothing on our backs, we must launch a modern-day women’s abolitionist movement here. These workers toil in slave conditions, and they are dying.
On April 24, a factory fire outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 400 people and injured at least 1,000 more. Most of the dead workers were women. The day before the fire, workers reported a large crack in the building at the Rana Plaza. A bank on the second floor told its workers to stay home, but the five garment factories in the complex remained open.
This is not the first time garment workers have died on the job in Bangladesh. The International Labor Rights Forum calculates that more than 900 workers have died in factory fires and collapsed buildings in Bangladesh since 2005. Last November, a fire killed more than 100 workers in a factory that was producing clothes for Walmart, Disney and other Western companies. Factory exits were locked and bolted, and some workers leapt to their deaths.