The Solidarity Center joins the international labor and human rights communities in expressing sorrow over the unnecessary and tragic loss of life at a Bangladesh garment factory over the weekend. Between 112 and 120 Bangladeshi garment workers—most of them women—have been confirmed killed in one of the nation’s worst industrial disasters in recent memory.
“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives and to those who have been injured,” said Tim Ryan, Asia regional director for the Solidarity Center. “Workers should not have to risk their lives to make clothes.”
Even as the death toll continued to rise and many garment factories shut down as thousands of people protest the tragedy, another fire broke out at a 12-story garment factory on Monday, where eight workers were injured. Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed on the job in the past few years.
At the time of the fire, some 600 workers were in the factory, which employs 1,500 people and has sales of $35 million a year, according to the New York Times. Many jumped to their deaths trying to escape from the six-story building outside Dhaka, and those unable to escape the blaze were burned alive, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign. NBC News quotes Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, who said there were no fire exits: “Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower.”
Ruhul Amin, general secretary of Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity (BFWS), said that although the Prime Minister stated factory exits should not be locked during working hours, “the garment workers of Bangladesh now don’t have confidence in the inspection department of Bangladesh. So I am requesting the buyers to take care the issue very seriously. I also demand judiciary inquiry for the incident.”
The owners of the factory must be punished, said Aleaya, general secretary of Bangladesh Industrial Garment Workers Federation (BGIWF) and “should take responsibility for the injured workers.”
Bangladesh is now the world’s second-largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion last year, or 80 percent of total national exports. Yet the base pay for a garment worker in Bangladesh is the equivalent of $37 a month—the same monthly amount it costs to buy food for one person.
There are no local unions at the Tazreen Fashions factory to represent workers and ensure safe work sites. In fact, Bangladeshi garment workers struggling to gain safe working conditions and decent pay face huge opposition. Earlier this year, union activist Aminul Islam, a leader of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), a Solidarity Center partner, was tortured and murdered.
Police attacks against demonstrating workers demanding better working conditions and higher wages are widespread, according to a 2012 report by the United Nations.
The violence against Bangladeshi workers has captured the attention of human rights activists and policymakers in the United States. It was the subject of human rights hearing in Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a trip this year to Bangladesh, specifically addressed the unsolved murder of Islam.