Wednesday, April 13, 2005

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Over 200 workers have been trapped in a nine storey garment factory that collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 10th -hope is rapidly fading for their rescue. Early reports suggested the workers were mostly women, however later reports stated that because this was the night shift, the workers may be mostly men.

Bangladesh garment exports account for 2/3 of it's exports, and is worth $5 billion dollars annually. AND 80% of the workers are women between the ages of 14 and 25!

A news report pointed out that:

In Bangladesh, about 1.3 million jobs are directly dependent on export-oriented textile and garment industries producing goods for the European and North American markets. However, the wealth created by the garment sector, has had little effect on improving the lives of ordinary women workers and their families.

The workers, mostly female, work without a break during their shift. Too often the factory doors are locked. Sometimes guards with keys stand by the locked gate; other times no one able to unlock the iron grating is near. Many times the locked gate is the only entrance or exit to a factory. The workers, including children, are frequently locked into their work place at the beginning of the morning shift and not let out until the end of the workday, and in some cases not until the next day.

This situation is not at all unique to Bangladesh, similar conditions exist throughout East and South Asia, Latin America, and in many countries of Africa. Women are often the preferred workers in these industries because of perceptions of "docility" and "they don't complain as much."

In the United States, a similar garment factory fire nearly a century ago led to an outcry that finally led to reform especially in areas of health, safety, and child labor.

"It was the worst factory fire in the history of New York City. It occurred on 25 March 1911 in the Asch building at the northwest corner of Washington and Greene streets, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Company occupied the top three of ten floors; five hundred women were employed there, mostly Jewish immigrants between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three. To keep the women at their sewing machines the proprietors had locked the doors leading to the exits. Panicked workers rushed to the stairs, the freight elevator, and the fire escape.

Most on the eighth and tenth floors escaped; dozens on the ninth floor died, unable to force open the locked door to the exit. The rear fire escape collapsed, killing many and eliminating an escape route for others still trapped. Some tried to slide down elevator cables but lost their grip; many more, their dresses on fire, jumped to their death from open windows."
But with globalization of the market, the primary source of North American and European garments are now from the global south "third world" where such working conditions continue to prevail - resulting in super cheap exploited labor, and huge profits for the "designer" and "branded" clothes many of us wear.

For most of us living in the US/Canada/Europe this is a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind." Even as we are in all likelihood wearing a sweater, shirt, sweat shirt, made in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico - next time take some time to read that label - and remember the faces of the (mostly) women workers.

Wanna do more? Check out some these web sites - they'll help get you started:

Global Exchange

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O You who have attained to faith! Do not devour one another's possessions wrongfully - not even by way of trade based on mutual agreement - and do not destroy one another. Allah is indeed a dispenser of grace (Rahim) unto you!
(Quran 4:29, Mohammed Asad interpertation/translation)

4 comment(s):

  • Salam,
    The BBC article you linked to said that in this case, the victims may mostly be men because it collapsed during the night shift. I hope they are able to get everyone out alive. It does not mention where the garments from this particular factory go to, I'd be interested in knowing.

    By Blogger Anna in PDX, at 4/14/2005 08:05:00 AM  

  • Salaams --- often the workers do not know the brand of garments being made. The labels are usually printed in English, French, etc.

    Also each factory may produce garments for several different brands. However, the news reports did say that the factory made sweaters for export.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/14/2005 10:20:00 AM  

  • Salaams

    If you live in the global North, there is something you can do to positively influence this situation in your daily life - purchase fair trade products. There is a substantial and growing support for fair trade goods in the UK.

    To find out more:


    You can buy fair trade food, coffee and tea, clothes - and much more.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 4/15/2005 03:06:00 AM  

  • Salaams

    Some of the clothing manufacturers seem to be doing something:

    The ethical revolution sweeping through the world's sweatshops
    By Maxine Frith
    Independent - 16 April 2005

    They are the global brands that have raked in multimillion-pound profits on the back of sweatshop labour in developing countries.

    But after a decade of denying any wrongdoing, companies such as Nike and Gap are now admitting that their workers have been exploited and abused, and have pledged to improve the conditions of the millions of people who are paid a few pence a day to make their top-selling goods.


    But there are many categories of goods, including coffee and computers, not even mentioned in this article.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 4/16/2005 05:59:00 AM  

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