Fashion Victims


root - Posted on 01 January 2000

45 workers were killed last week in Narsingdi, Bangladesh in the latest catstrophe involving a garment factory

by Chris Barrett

People are dying to make towels. 45 workers were killed last week in Narsingdi, Bangladesh in the latest catstrophe involving a garment factory. 10 children were among the dead in a fire sparked from an electrical short at the Sagar Chowdury Garment Factory in an Industrial Area near the capital of Dhaka. 900 workers were on duty making towels and the situation could have been far worse considering the state of the building. Obserevers claim that the collapsible gates of the building were locked, as they were routinely, and had to be broken down by local people and firefighters. (From a report by The Bagladesh Observer, Dhaka ,Sunday November 26,2000) No number of death has been attributed to stampede, but it is assumed that many were trampled trying to escape.

This latest and worst incident of the year comes scant months after workers rallied to protest dangerous conditions following a similar fire in August that killed 12. A one-day strike was carried out by the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh on September 4th to demand better working conditions improved safety measures and compensation for the families of the dead.

Over 150 garment workers, mostly women and children, have died in fires in the last 10 years in the Dhaka region. Many of these fires take places in factories where workers live in the building that houses the factory and warehouse. The 12 that died in august had no means of escape. They were on the third floor and the only staircase was out was blocked off.

Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh. If you visit the government website you will find out that the city has a history as a "Centre for fine silk and muslin". It's current standing in the garment industry is as a new player. It's economic standing as a Least Developed Country means that it must produce garments at the cheapest possible prices in order to compete with other developing countries. It competes with such third wave Asian economies as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Vietnam to undercut garment producing exports that face higher

MFA (The Multi Fibre Agreement is a set of quotas introduced by importing countries to protect their own garment industries and give them time to adapt to the racing pulse of globalisation) regulations in Indonesia and Thailand. The MFA tends to benefit retailers who search out new developing countries to exploit. Factories in Bangladesh have a competitive advantage only by being the cheapest.

Women are disproportionately represented in the garment labour forces in these LCD's. A recent research study conducted found that workers in a factory in Bangladesh earned half a percent of the sale price of Nike jackets they were sewing. The same study found that garment workers in Bangladesh could hope to earn about 3% of the hourly wage of garment workers in the U.S. The study was conducted by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.

Factory conditions are deplorable in Bangladesh. The three tier factories that support living areas for workers are there to mandate longer hours. They increase exposure to toxic chemicals used in the factories. Most factories have one exit and no emergency exits. The exit was locked in the latest fire and the results were tragic.

The situation seems dire considering the need women have for these jobs. The families that these women support surely benefit with better medical care, education and housing accesible with money from outside the country. The women themselves don't see these benefits as they are offset by the health hazards, debilitating working conditions and imminent deaths promised in the factories. Local efforts by garment workers need to be supported through import country efforts to hold exporters and retailers accountable. Media attention is necessary as are efforts to publicize retailer histories of the clothing they sell. The Clean Clothes Campaign at www.cleanclothes.org is a good source of information on current issues

It is difficult to find mention of these fires in U.S. news sources. The New York Times had a three line mention the following day in their ghettoized world news section. Worker attempts to generate interest, like the August protest are ignored by the mainstream media, though they are the best hope for changing working conditions in the region. Sweatshop news from the U.S is also underreported. Articles on globalisation tend to have a top to bottom bias focusing largely on a monolithic US economy with its day to day health as primary focus. Stock Prices of retailers are highly reported. Labor issues in the United States are marginalized to a large degree and tend to find only local coverage, if that. Preventable tragedies among communities of women in Bangladesh are not newsworthy aspects of the world economy.

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