As the Washington Post reported today, most U.S. clothing retailers have refused to sign on to an international pact aimed at ensuring that Bangladesh garment factory workers are less likely to get killed making our pants and shirts.
Companies including Wal-Mart, Gap, Target and J.C. Penney had been pressed by labor groups to sign the document in the wake of last month’s factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 1,127 people. More than a dozen European retailers did so. But U.S. companies feared the agreement would give labor groups and others the basis to sue them in court.
The death toll from the garment factory collapse in Dhaka has now surpassed 1,100 people and the rescue effort has ended.
In the two weeks since the tragic incident, which brought world attention to the abuses of the garment industry, laborers in Bangladesh appear to be making small gains. Major retailers are signing on to pacts aimed at improving worker safety. The Bangladesh government says it is prepared to increase the minimum wage and allow workers to form trade unions without factory owner permission.
Worker and community protests this weekend in Ashulia, a manufacturing hub located outside of Dhaka, caused about 30 factories to suspend work and closed down the city’s main highway. Cries for the death penalty for the owner of the Rana Plaza complex, Sohel Rana, were a focus of the protest.
Bangladesh garment factory workers have long had reasons for protest. But now, the world is paying attention.
Neither the garment industry or government has done much to improve worker safety and wages as this country over the past decade has become the second largest player, behind China, in the international system of clothing manufacturing. Continue reading →
The world remains focused on the massive tragedy of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, which is a good thing in that it helps educate us all about the working conditions for some of those making our clothing.
Many of the stories are beginning to dwell on what is seen as a dilemma. How to best support the workers.
Some say we in the rich world need to support efforts to improve safety, wages and working conditions in these factories where many of our clothes are now made. Others say we need to be careful not to hurt this industry that gives so many of the poor jobs.
Here’s our interview with Sumi Abedin, a survivor of an earlier Bangladesh garment factory disaster, and our follow-up podcast with an organizer of a Seattle protest on the day of the factory collapes. The latest:
I think our best bet is to listen to the workers. As Sumi Abedin said to me in our interview, none of the workers want to see a boycott or a reduced garment industry in Bangladesh. But the choice shouldn’t be between having a dangerous and exploitative job or no job, she said.
Some clothing retailers like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger have signed on to international rules aimed at improving garment factory safety. It may add a few cents more to ensure people aren’t killed making our pants and shirts, or maybe even a dollar more per item if we want them to make living wages.
A deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh that has so far been estimated to have killed nearly 250 people is again raising questions about the role that US companies and consumers play in perpetuating dangerous and unfair sweatshops overseas.
Yglesias was responding to the case made by University of Rhode Island history professor Erik Loomis that the factory building collapse that killed at least 244 people in Dhaka shows the need for universal labor standards across all countries. He writes in the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog:
Ultimately, we need international standards for factory safety, guaranteed through an international agency that includes vigorous inspections and real financial punishments. Of course, we are a long ways from any of this. But we have to begin at least talking in these terms, demanding accountability for workplace deaths, whether in the United States or in Bangladesh.
News reports are coming out about the circumstances of the building collapse. The LA Times reports labor activists saying that as many as 2,500 people refused to enter the building over structural concerns. Visible cracks were reason concern for the workers, but assurances from managers and the building owner proved to be enough to get the workers inside only an hour before it collapsed. Continue reading →
Sumi Abedin was making 18 cents an hour as a seamstress, putting together garments for Sean “P Diddy” Combs’ clothing line (known as Sean John Clothing) when the factory she worked in located outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, began burning.
“The door was locked and we couldn’t get out,” Abedin said, speaking through translator and Bangladeshi labor activist Kalpona Akter. She ended up having to leap from a three-story window, breaking an arm and a leg – and feeling lucky to have survived. More than a hundred did not.
Abedin and Akter are in Seattle today as part of a U.S. tour — the End Death Trap Tour, they call it — aimed at urging American corporations and clothing purchasers like Walmart and Gap to support safe, fair working conditions overseas.
Bangladesh, with 5,000 such factories and millions of garment industry workers, is second only to China as a global exporter of clothing. The garment industry is seen by many Bangladeshi officials and business leaders as one of the nation’s brightest economic prospects.
Competing largely by supplying low-cost labor, Bangladesh is also seen by many human rights and labor activists as an increasingly dangerous place for workers. Below, in the video, Abedin describes how she narrowly escaped death:
I discussed the issue of Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar a bit yesterday. This short report from Al Jazeera provides further information about the ethnic conflict that has lead to the displacement of the Rohingya and how the refugees are living in tents and rely upon food aid.
This video was made for a fund-raising pitch. This one happens to be for UNICEF, which is supported by the family of former Beatle George Harrison. You can read about the UNICEF campaign here.
I’m not shilling for UNICEF here. I just wanted to post this video made about the Concert for Bangladesh.
That was 40 years ago, done to help the refugees in Bangladesh, and it was one of the first benefit concerts aimed at helping the poor overseas. It made me wonder if anything like this could be done, or would be done, in response to what’s happening in East Africa now.
Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winning economist who created the anti-poverty loan strategy known as microfinance, has reportedly been ordered by the Bangladesh government to step down from his pioneering institution the Grameen Bank.
I say reportedly because the news, at the moment, is kind of schizoid — because the politics in Bangladesh are, uh, unpredictable and, well, because being told to do something is one thing and doing it is another.
David Roodman, a microfinance expert at the Center for Global Development and one of those with his finger on the pulse, is also questioning whether some of the media reports might be jumping the gun to claim he’s actually been ousted.