Thursday, May 9, 2013

In solidarity with garment workers

  •   Photo- Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
Members representing the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) are deeply saddened and angered by the most recent tragedy in the Bangladesh garment industry. Which, in our view, was the result of unmitigated greed, corruption, criminal negligence, and was entirely avoidable.
We are horrified that despite clear signs of danger and police orders to evacuate the building, the workers were forced to work under the threat of pay-cuts. The owners and managers of these garments factories clearly violated the police order and the law, according to media reports.
We express our deepest condolences to the families of workers who have lost their lives and those who are injured, and express our solidarity with RMG workers, the unions and other groups who are striving for improved safety and humane working conditions. We support their call for justice, and for stringent punishment for the perpetrators of this man-made tragedy.
We are heartened by and applaud the spontaneous and selfless efforts of many ordinary men and women, rescue teams, and medical services who have provided support ever since the accident. With few resources and even less training, and sometimes at great personal danger, they did their utmost to help the wounded, rescue the trapped, and provide relief to thousands. Their heroic actions have made us proud of our fellow citizens, and give us hope for our future.
We condemn the negligence, irresponsibility, and impunity with which garment-factory owners have been able to operate outside the law, especially after the incident at Tazreen Fashions.
Part of the blame must be shared by foreign buyers who have looked the other way, instead of insisting on higher safety standards. It is clear that worker-safety standards have not improved; instead, industrial accidents are becoming more frequent and deadlier.
We note with satisfaction that the owners of the relevant garment industries and the owner of this building have been apprehended. The BGMEA has suspended all of the garment businesses housed in Rana Plaza. While these individual owners bear primary responsibility for the disaster, so do others involved, who took advantage of the prevailing culture of corruption and political patronage in the country to disregard legal codes and violate safety standards. Justice will not be served only by punishing the perpetrators individually, but by ensuring adequate compensation to all affected workers and their families by seizing assets of the owners so as to realise restorative justice. We demand a speedy trial so that justice is not delayed.
The situation in the Bangladesh RMG industry today is similar to that in the United States in 1911 with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York. That tragedy caused a mass movement that brought together different classes of people to demand reforms, which ultimately improved the lives of workers. Let this latest tragedy be the catalyst for similar systemic changes in the RMG industry in Bangladesh.
We stand in solidarity with the thousands of RMG workers who have taken to the streets in their struggle for justice, dignity, and emancipation.
We urge the unions, the workers, and their supporters to maintain calm, protest peacefully, and channel their anger toward achieving progressive change. The safety problems do not lie only with individual owners of these factories — rather these are systemic problems that demand comprehensive and industry-wide solutions and reforms.
We urge BGMEA to admit that other factories are also susceptible to such incidents. Failure to do so will cost more lives and lead to the decline of the entire garment industry in Bangladesh as buyers and retailers increasingly shun apparels “tainted with blood.” 
Dr Navine Murshid represents Bangladesh Development Initiative, a non-partisan research and advocacy group based in the United States.

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