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Bangladesh: A powerful call for action

It is difficult not to be deeply saddened - and angered - by the building collapse in Bangladesh and the tragic consequences of it.  Some 290 deaths at the time of writing.      In many ways, many of us in the West are accessories to the conditions in which these poor people, mainly women, work.

The New York Times has a powerful editorial on the subject:

"The collapse of an eight-story factory building in Bangladesh that killed more than 200 people on Wednesday has again cast a spotlight on the poor conditions in which millions of Bangladeshis make clothes for American and European consumers. In November, a fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh that made clothes for Walmart and Sears killed 112 people.

The severity and frequency of these disasters are an indictment of global clothing brands and retailers like Walmart, H&M and the Gap, which buy billions of dollars of clothes from Bangladesh but have so far refused to demand and pay for adequate safeguards at the factories that fill their orders. An equal if not greater share of the blame falls on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s government for failing to act despite repeated tragedies.

Ms. Hasina is a powerful leader who has the wherewithal to enact meaningful changes for the country’s 3.5 million garment workers, many of whom are women. The first thing she must do is enforce Bangladeshi labor laws and safety standards, which theoretically provide protection but are rarely honored. The laws allow workers to form unions and bargain with management on wages and working conditions, but the government has not defended those rights despite promises to do so to international agencies and the United States.

Meanwhile, there are just 11 collective bargaining agreements in the entire country of 150 million people, and there are only a few unions in the clothing industry. Workers who try to form unions are often fired and beaten, sometimes even killed. Last year, a young labor leader, Aminul Islam, was tortured and killed in apparent retaliation for his work organizing garment workers. has a powerful editorial on the subject:


"The collapse of an eight-story factory building in Bangladesh that killed more than 200 people on Wednesday has again cast a spotlight on the poor conditions in which millions of Bangladeshis make clothes for American and European consumers. In November, a fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh that made clothes for Walmart and Sears killed 112 people.

The severity and frequency of these disasters are an indictment of global clothing brands and retailers like Walmart, H&M and the Gap, which buy billions of dollars of clothes from Bangladesh but have so far refused to demand and pay for adequate safeguards at the factories that fill their orders. An equal if not greater share of the blame falls on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s government for failing to act despite repeated tragedies.

Ms. Hasina is a powerful leader who has the wherewithal to enact meaningful changes for the country’s 3.5 million garment workers, many of whom are women. The first thing she must do is enforce Bangladeshi labor laws and safety standards, which theoretically provide protection but are rarely honored. The laws allow workers to form unions and bargain with management on wages and working conditions, but the government has not defended those rights despite promises to do so to international agencies and the United States.

Meanwhile, there are just 11 collective bargaining agreements in the entire country of 150 million people, and there are only a few unions in the clothing industry. Workers who try to form unions are often fired and beaten, sometimes even killed. Last year, a young labor leader, Aminul Islam, was tortured and killed in apparent retaliation for his work organizing garment workers."

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