LOCKED TO DEATH

They locked me
They burnt me alive
I don’t want any more press statements
Why is the factory a prison??
I do not accept having to work under lockup conditions

I DO NOT!

We demand a real investigation, justice and punishment of those responsible

We want the guarantee of natural deaths

A collective of Writers-artists-teachers-cultural-political activists and citizens of Bangladesh have called for protest rally on the 27th November, 2012 demanding for a fair investigation and punishment of those responsible for the factory fire at the ground floor of the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion plant. The fire that broke during the late hours of 24th November (Saturday) soon swept through the entire factory killing more than 110 workers and leaving over hundred severely injured. Survivors informed that many of the desperate workers jumped from upper floors and sustained major injuries which eventually led to their death.

The fire at Tazreen factory is not an isolate incident. Bangladesh has witnessed several major fire incidents over the years. A garment worker in Bangladesh still remains disposable. It has been highlighted time and again that most of the deaths in these fire accidents are due to lack to safety measures in the factories. In fact, Experts say that many of the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. According to an advocacy group, Clean Clothes Campaign, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires since 2006. Some of them includes, a factory fire in Ashulia a few months ago and a major factory killing many children and adult workers in 1990. While the former was a reflection of worker’s anger against low wage where they vandalized several factories, in the latter all the emergency exit roads were locked and the workers were forced to die due to absence of any escape route. In the latest factory fire in Fashion plant, the fire broke out in a warehouse on the ground floor that was used to store yarn, and quickly spread to the upper floors. The building was nine stories high, with the top three floors under construction. Incidentally instead of all the floors having emergency, only the ground floor had them which led to increasing number of deaths as many were locked in with no route to escape. Those who dared to jump out of the windows fall prey to their injuries.

Latest Update from Bangladesh: The government has announced national mourning day on the 27th of November, (Tuesday) in memory of the workers killed in the garment factory fire in Ashulia. It also announced a one-day vacation at all ready-made garment factories across the country for Tuesday. Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on Monday alleged that local and international vested quarters were behind the Ashulia factory fire that killed 111 people.

The High Court on Monday (26 Nov. 2012) decided to form an independent committee to probe the fire that killed 111 people at a garment factory in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital. In response to a writ petition, the court ordered Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (Bela) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to suggest names for the committee within 10 days. The HC issued a rule upon the government to explain in four weeks why it should not be directed to prosecute and punish the people responsible for the accident.

Rise of Workers Militancy: Unsafe work conditions, inadequate wages and government inaction to book those responsible for factory fires and casualties have led to a dramatic rise of ‘workers’ militancy’ in the garment sector in Bangladesh. At present, more than 3 million workers work in almost 500 garment factories in Bangladesh which has emerged the single largest export industry in Bangladesh and the government earns most of its revenue from it. It employs forty percent of industrial workers and earns eighty percent of the export revenue. Also majority of the workers are women. But when it comes to the wage, they are most exploited and also most lowly paid, which is even lesser than what is paid in conflict ridden Afghanistan. Moreover, the workers have to adjust with appalling work conditions. Trade unions and associations face brutal conditions as labor regulations are openly flouted. The recent rise in industrial conflict reflects workers’ growing resentment as they turn to spontaneous unionization and other forms of struggle. Only in December 2011, 60 different cases of workers attacking factories were reported which clearly indicated that the workers had no other means to get their voices heard but to resort to violence.

A historical analysis of the Ready Made Garment (RMG) workers movement throws light to its continued struggle and its dominant characteristics. Bangladesh emerged as a major manufacturing site for the developed nations as a resultant of the economic process the country adopted post independence. The first RMG factory was started as a joint collaboration between South Korean and Bangladeshi firms as early as 1978. Though FDI played a major role in establishing the RMG industry, Bangladeshi investors quickly expanded their stake. The industry is now dominated by domestically-owned firms with just 83 (under 2 per cent) of an estimated 4,330 firms at the end of 2006 wholly or partially foreign-owned

Conditions like unstable political regime, excessive contractualisation of jobs, over extension of work hours from 9-12 hours to about 16 hours daily without any pay led to the emergence of the RMG movement. A fire in a factory in the outskirts of Dhaka in December 1990 killed as many as 25 people which led to huge outcry among the workers. Since then there has been continuous protests among the workers. In the late 90s, there was a major setback due to the collapse in the Soviet Union and the weakening influence of left parties in Bangladesh. Also there has been the problem of too many unions in the sector, which has led to sectarian agendas taking over.

Vandalizing factories, workers dying in factories, firing at protesting workers has formed the order of the day since the late 90s till the present. The workers today are organized under various unions which are affiliated to about four major federations; namely the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF), the Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Federation (BGWF), the Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Employees’ Federation (BGWEF) and the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers’ Union (BIGUF) .

The workers today are demanding an increase in their wage to 5000 taka per month and the recent strikes are action following that demand.

The Need of the Hour

The garment workers movement in Bangladesh has been criticized to be disorganized from different quarters. Sporadic workers violence has been reported from various places without any co-ordination or banner. Thus there is a need to organize the workers under a political platform and ideology so that their voices can be heard. Multiplicity of unions has had adverse impacts on their rights. With each union demanding for different things, the whole movement gets a back push, making it easier to curb for the employers and the government. The issues of the laborers have only been of the workers and have not been able to attract the attention of the general masses. The media has been complacent and also the NGO sector has not been able to do much due to the involvement of Bangladesh government in the violation of workers’ rights.

The movement in Bangladesh needs to be supported by parallel movements in the buyer countries. It’s on their solidarity the rights of the workers in Bangladesh can be ensured. Recently buyers in countries like Germany have threatened about cancelling orders if the factory owners don’t respect workers right in Bangladesh. Similar efforts in other countries can go a long way.

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