Voice of America is reporting: “Garment workers in Bangladesh have held a second day of demonstrations, as the country observed a day of mourning for at least 110 people killed in a Saturday factory fire.”
KALPONA AKTER [email]
Akter is with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. As late as Monday, Walmart was claiming it did not have a current relationship with the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh. Only after Akter produced a picture of herself holding up clothing with Walmart’s exclusive “Faded Glory” label found at the factory did Walmart admit that the factory was still a supplier; claiming it didn’t know that was the case. See: “Photos Show Walmart Apparel at Site of Deadly Factory Fire in Bangladesh.”
Akter started work in garment factories when she was 12 years old. Now she campaigns for better wages, recognition of the right to organize and higher safety standards. She said today: “I have been a garment worker in Bangladesh and I know the terrible conditions that workers must face every day – dangerous safety risks, poverty wages, abusive treatment, unsafe conditions, and unsafe drinking water. Walmart, H&M, Gap and other major buyers have a responsibility to workers to clean up their practices and make sure that no more workers have to die sewing cheap clothing while these brands make millions of dollars in profit.” She appeared on the program Democracy Now! this morning.
SCOTT NOVA [email]
Executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, Nova said today: “Walmart’s foundational corporate principle, one they prosecute with religious fervor, is cost reduction through absolute control of their supply chain and production system. Today, however, they want us to believe that they have so little control over their supply chain that they do not even know which factories are manufacturing their clothes. The bottom line is that Walmart was making goods at the Tazreen factory, but failed to protect the rights and safety of the workers making those clothes. Retroactively blaming this on ‘unauthorized’ subcontracting is not going to fly.
“The Triangle Shirtwaist fire [in New York City in 1911] galvanized a reform movement in the U.S. that transformed an industry of dangerous sweatshops into one defined by safe workplaces and decent wages. Now, global outsourcing has allowed retailers like Gap and Walmart to turn back the clock to 1911, recreating in places like Bangladesh the brutal conditions and rock-bottom production costs that prevailed in the U.S. at the time of the Triangle fire.
“Wages of 18 cents an hour and cruel working conditions have led to waves of mass protest and unrest among Bangladeshi apparel workers. The government and the industry there cannot acknowledge that the unrest is a product of their own policies of low wages and lax regulation, so they must find scapegoats. Unsurprisingly, they chose to target labor rights advocates, branding them subversives, accusing them of fomenting the violence, and in the worst cases attacking them physically. This in all likelihood is the dynamic that led to the murder of Aminul Islam.”
See this New York Times piece from September on the labor organizer Aminul Islam: “Fighting for Bangladesh Labor, and Ending Up in Pauper’s Grave.”