My condolences to all the families of those killed and injured.
In Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, at least 300 workers, mostly women, died at the Rana Plaza garment factory building collapse on April 24. In addition to the appalling number of deaths, more than 1,200 were injured there in the worst industrial disaster ever to befall this country.
The search continues to find survivors trapped in the rubble. Emergency crews have heard cries of workers pleading to be rescued, many crying out that their children need them.
Infuriated by these needless deaths, workers and victims’ relatives took to the streets of Dhaka. They blocked highways, smashed windows and fought with police in the capital and in Ashulia, an industrial zone. They attacked plants where the employers refused to give their employees the day off on the official Day of Mourning for this disaster.
Huge numbers of workers walked out of their factories to show solidarity with the dead and injured. ”There were hundreds of thousands of them. They occupied roads for a while and then dispersed,” said Abdul Baten, district police chief of Gaziput, the site of hundreds of large clothing factories. (ibtimes.co.uk, April 25)
Outraged, more huge crowds marched to the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Dhaka, demanding that all clothing factories be closed, and that the Rana Plaza factory owners be punished. They chanted, “We want the execution of the garment factory owners!” (Al-Jazeera, April 25.) They demanded the same punishment for Mohammed Sohel Rana, the building’s owner.
As of April 26, most Dhaka factories are closed, as workers have gone on strike to protest the unsafe conditions and preventable deaths. Militant protests continue. A strike has been called for April 28 by several labor organizations.
Workers warned of dangers; forced to work
On April 24, deep cracks were found in Rana Plaza’s walls. Evacuation orders were given. Other businesses sent their employees home, but the five garment factory owners ordered some 3,000 workers back to work, disregarding the workers’ warnings and concerns in their rush for profits. Employees informed police and government officials about the hazards but no one shut the plants.
Threats were made to dock salaries if the workers didn’t comply with the order to return to work. An hour after they went into the factories, the cave-in happened.
Sohel Rana maintained the building would be safe for 100 years, even though he’d been told the opposite. Moreover, he is culpable for building the top three floors of the eight-story building illegally, without permits. Serious flaws also existed in its foundation, which was built on swampy land.
Although the clothing factory owners must take their share of the blame for this catastrophe, so too must Western retail giants. The Bangladeshi bosses say that they were rushing to fill orders within customers’ tight deadlines. They also say these corporations pay low prices, so the local employers claim they can’t raise wages or upgrade facilities. The workers’ health and safety is not even a consideration in this profit-seeking arrangement.
The five operating clothing makers in Rana Plaza made millions of garments a year for U.S. and European corporations, including The Children’s Place, Dress Barn, Britain’s Primark, Spain’s Mango and Italy’s Benetton. “Ether Tex [one of the clothing makers] said Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, was one of its customers,” reported Al-Jazeera on April 25.
“The front-line responsibility [for safety] is the government’s, but the real power lies with Western brands and retailers, beginning with the biggest players: Walmart, H & M Industries, Gap and others,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “The price pressure these buyers put on factories undermines any prospect that factories will undertake the costly repairs and renovations that are necessary to make these buildings safe.” (New York Times, April 25)
A systematic pattern of abuse
So, in this corporate rush to maximize profits and produce goods as cheaply as possible, it is the workers who suffer. There are few, if any, safety measures. Those that exist are not enforced by the government, which seeks to placate local business owners and the U.S. and European companies which purchase goods from their country.
No factory owner has ever been charged for a worker’s death. It’s no wonder, as these business owners have power; many are politicians and they hold 10 percent of Parliament’s seats.
Factory fires have killed hundreds of clothing workers in recent years. After the horrific inferno that killed 112 workers last November at Tazreen Fashion factory, the local factory owners, the government and Western companies were supposed to improve safety measures, and also address the many structurally unsound plants. Despite lip service, there’s no concrete evidence that anything has changed.
Many companies deny they purchase Bangladeshi goods and blame subcontractors in an elaborate scheme to avoid responsibility for making the plants safe. A few Western retailers that order these goods have agreed to help finance safety efforts and building improvements but are waiting for others to sign on. However, Walmart, H&M and the Gap have said “No” to this plan.
The Rana Plaza cave-in showed that no companies, local or global, nor the government are serious about improving safety conditions for the workers. In fact, Primark, a British company which was supplied by a factory in the fallen building, had approved the health and safety conditions there. The facilities had also passed international safety audits.
Now, labor unions and workers’ rights groups in Bangladesh are trying to get companies to sign on to an action plan to prevent more building collapses and fires. Called the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Agreement, it was written after the Tazreen Factory blaze. There is some resistance by Western corporations.
Slave wages attract Western companies
According to the April 25 New York Times, “Bangladesh has the lowest labor costs in the world.” The cheap labor and production costs draw Western companies, like Walmart, Sears, the Gap and many other retail giants, to purchase clothing from the country, which is the world’s second leading garment exporter.
There are 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh, employing about 4 million workers, mostly women. They are paid $37 a month for 15-hour workdays in sweatshop conditions. In Marxist terms, this is known as “superexploitation.” Some $18 billion to $20 billion a year comes into the economy from garment exports — 80 percent of the country’s exports. The U.S. buys 23 percent of these goods, more than any other country. The clothing retail giants then make megaprofits from selling the apparel internationally.
Within the country, there is opposition from business owners and the government to raising wages or funding safety improvements. Western companies demand the lowest labor and production costs, which translate into no safety upgrades. They also expect the workers to be kept in line, without union interference.
The government works hard for the garment bosses and Western retailers to suppress the working-class movement and union organizing. Unions are allowed but are not protected. There are few in the garment industry. When workers do organize, they are frequently beaten and fired. Last year, Animul Islam, a labor organizer, was tortured and murdered. No one has ever been charged for the crime.
Yet, no matter what the government and companies do, they can’t stop the class struggle by the workers, who are constantly demonstrating for higher wages, better working conditions and unionization — and who are now on strike protesting the needless deaths at Rana Plaza.
Isn’t it time for an international outcry against this “profits before people” system? Isn’t it time to hit hard at capitalists’ exploitation of these workers and the lack of concern for their lives? Isn’t it time to blame the capitalist system and work to get rid of it? Aren’t the lives of 300 workers enough of a reason?
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Over 200 Killed in Bangladesh Factory Collapse After Workers Forced to Ignore Building’s Dangers
democracynow on Apr 25, 2013
http://www.democracynow.org – The death toll in Bangladesh has topped 200 after an eight-story garment factory building collapsed with thousands of workers inside. More than 1,000 people were injured and an unknown number of workers are still trapped in the wreckage. Cracks had been found in the building, but workers say the factory owners forced them to go to work anyway. Protests broke out in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka today as angry workers blocked key highways, marched on several factories, and rallied outside the headquarters of Bangladesh’s main manufacturers group. The disaster comes exactly five months after a massive fire killed at least 112 garment workers at Bangladesh’s Tazreen factory, which made clothing sold by Wal-Mart, among other companies. We’re joined by two guests: Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity; and Charlie Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
Survivor of Bangladesh’s Tazreen Factory Fire Urges U.S. Retailers to Stop Blocking Worker Safety
democracynow on Apr 25, 2013
http://www.democracynow.org – This week’s Bangladeshi factory disaster comes five months after a massive fire killed at least 112 garment workers at Bangladesh’s Tazreen factory, which made clothing sold by Wal-Mart, among other companies. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart refused to compensate victims and their families, even though it was apparently the factory’s largest buyer. We’re joined by Sumi Abedin, a worker who survived the Tazreen fire by jumping from the factory’s third story, breaking both her arm and foot in the process. She is currently touring the United States to call on retailers like Wal-Mart, The GAP and Disney to take the lead on improving working conditions in Bangladesh. We also speak with Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Charlie Kernaghan of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
Bangladesh: Cheap Clothes for Mass Deaths | Interview with Theresa Haas
breakingtheset on Apr 26, 2013
Abby Martin talks to Theresa Haas, Director of Communications for the Worker Rights Consortium, about Bangladesh’s lack of safety standards in garment factories that have resulted in mass casualties and what consumers can do to help them improve.
Profits before people, workers disposable – Celente on Bangladesh
RussiaToday on Apr 27, 2013
Victims both dead and alive are still being pulled from the wreckage of the Bangladesh building where 8 storeys came crashing down on 3 thousand people. Bank staff were told not to come to work after cracks appeared in the doomed complex but garment factories told their employees all was safe. Gerald Celente, publisher of Trendjournal, joins RT studio to give his perspective on who is really to blame for the 300 deaths and thousands injured.
Building protests spread in Bangladesh
Steve Mosby on Apr 30, 2013
Protests in Bangladesh over the collapse of a factory near Dhaka are spreading. Police have arrested five people for questioning, but the building’s owner is in hiding. More than 340 workers were killed when the building came crashing down, but three days later, more survivors have been found. Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela reports.
Death toll in Bangladesh factory collapse reaches 950 (May 10, 2013)