Thursday, May 9, 2013

No to sweatshops!

The death toll at Rana Plaza in Savar as of today is 930 people & authorities don’t know how many more are still buried. About 2,500 people were rescued, 648 bodies were given to families for burial, & many bodies that could not be identified were buried by the government. Hundreds of survivors are recuperating with broken & amputated limbs, now disabled for life. The government, trying to head off an uprising, has promised prosthetic limbs, compensation & future jobs but it’s record of indifference to worker’s lives speaks louder than its lies.

The back hoes haven’t even finished at Rana Plaza & there was already another garment factory fire in Dhaka that killed 8 people. The fire at the 8-story Tung Hai Sweater company, which was fueled by piles of acrylic products, broke out last night shortly after the 300 workers had gone home for the day. Eight people died from suffocation as they tried to flee the building. According to one report, there have been 41 other “fire incidents” in Bangladesh factories (killing 9 workers & injuring over 660) since the Tazreen garment factory fire last November that gruesomely killed 112 workers. Things just can’t get worse for the global sweatshop system!

But undaunted in their predation, multinational retailers are putting on an elaborate dog & pony show for damage control: the Walt Disney Company says it’s pulling out of Bangladesh & other companies are expected to follow suit (at least until the coast is clear!); Britain's Primark & Canada's Loblaw retailers have pledged to compensate the families of deceased workers (compensate for a beloved family member with money!?); Walmart is engaging in what a business magazine calls “nation building” by putting on its mean face & issuing warnings to suppliers not to violate its labor policies. It is also contributing $1.6 million (chump change) to start a health & safety school in Bangladesh. All this strutting about is not to reform the sweatshop system (it’s not reformable; it has to be abolished!) but to calm down consumer misgivings in Europe, the US, & elsewhere & make sweatshops sound like good jobs for black & brown people reportedly grateful to work for 20-cents an hour.

Did these criminal enterprises think we wouldn’t find out that a labor rights group presented a Bangladesh Fire & Building Safety Agreement to a dozen of them (including Gap, Walmart & H&M ) at a meeting in 2011 which they rejected due to extra costs & fear of incurring legal action!? The updated proposal presented last November was only signed by PVH Corp (owner of Tommy Hilfiger & Calvin Klein) & the German retailer Tchibo--who were both having work done in Rana Plaza. So much for safety agreements!

Taslima Akhter, the photojournalist who took this photo at Rana Plaza in Dhaka said: “Every time I look back to this photo, I feel uncomfortable; it haunts me. It’s as if they are saying to me, we are not a number, not only cheap labor & cheap lives. We are human beings like you. Our life is precious like yours, & our dreams are precious too.”

It’s a gruesome photo (& I was reluctant to post it) but Akhter wants it to be seen to bear witness to the barbarism of sweatshop production which is spreading like vermin around the globe. May this young man & woman RIP & may we remember them in doing everything we can to oppose the exploitation of human labor.

No to sweatshops! No to child labor! Prosecute the retailers!

(Photo by Taslima Akhter)

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