Bangladeshi garment workers protest factory fire deaths
Published Dec 23, 2010 10:53 PM
From 2006 to 2009, 414 garment workers in Bangladesh died in 213 factory
A fire on Dec. 14 at Ha-Meem Group’s That’s It Sports Wear factory
in Ashulia, a suburb of Dhakar, Bangladesh’s capital, killed 29 workers.
Many jumped, trying to avoid the flames. More than 100 were injured. The fire
started on the ninth floor of the 11-story building where the company employs
thousands of workers. Witnesses reported that at least two emergency exit doors
and a stairway gate were locked.
Tragedy struck again on Dec. 18 when the factory reopened. The eighth floor
collapsed, injuring more than 25 workers. Then factory workers, many still in
shock from having seen co-workers leap to their deaths, staged a protest inside
the building and barricaded the Dhakar-Tangail highway. (Daily Star
It is reprehensible that the factory was reopened so soon, after the fire had
compromised the integrity of several top floors. That the fire occurred because
of an electrical short circuit makes it criminal.
Ha-Meem supplies clothing to transnational corporations, such as the Gap and
JCPenney. The ready-made garment industry, which also supplies Wal-Mart,
H&M and other major U.S. and European brands and department stores, is the
largest industry in the country and the third largest clothing producer in the
world. It brought in $12.7 billion in 2009, 14 percent of the country’s
gross domestic product, and it makes up 80 percent of Bangladesh’s
Bangladesh’s garment industry employs 3 million workers in more than
4,500 factories throughout the country. Seventy percent of the workers are
women. (Workers World, Aug. 29)
The year 2010 has seen great unrest in this industry. In July tens of thousands
of workers demonstrated. Police attacked the demonstrations and arrested 20
On Dec. 12 protesters at large, militant demonstrations in Gazipur, outside of
Dhaka, barricaded streets and rebelled. Police killed four workers.
The demonstrations have been over the struggle for a living wage. A
government-appointed wage board approved a wage increase to only 3,000 taka
($43) per month, less than $2 per day. Workers were demanding 5,000 taka ($72)
per month. Before the raise, there had not been an increase in garment
workers’ wages since 2006.
The paltry increase to 3,000 taka comes at a time of rising food prices in
Bangladesh and across the globe, especially in the Third World. In rural areas
food inflation has been more than 9 percent, in a country where more than 40
percent of the people live on less than $1 per day and where most people spend
70 percent of their income on food.
Even though the government board approved the wage increase to 3,000 taka, many
factories still pay the old wage of 1665 taka ($24) per month. The
demonstrations in Gazipur were spurred not only by the demand for a higher wage
but also by the factory owners’ refusal to submit to the new wage
According to the Bangladesh Daily Star, not only have the garment manufacturers
not heeded the new wage law, but they rarely pay workers within seven working
days of the wage period, in violation of the Labor Act 2006. (Dec. 16) They
also routinely ignore safety, security and other regulations.
It would be entirely too simple to blame the conditions of Bangladeshi workers
solely on the country’s ruling class. This would be ignoring the reality
of imperialist globalization. Companies and financial institutions in the
imperialist world dictate working conditions in the Third World.
Wal-Mart, for instance, forces those in its global supply chain to cut costs
and rewards those who can be the most cutthroat and give Wal-Mart the lowest
price for merchandise. Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer; its
owners, the Walton family, have a combined wealth of more than $90 billion.
Notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart keeps its prices low because it pays its
workers so little, not just the 2 million who work in its stores, but the tens
of thousands who are super-exploited and work under brutal, unsafe conditions
mostly in the Third World.
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