Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | November 28, 2012
Home : International
Fire reveals hard lives of workers
Bangladeshi garment workers take out a protest through a street to mourn the death of the victims of Saturday's fire in a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh held a day of mourning yesterday for the 112 people killed in the weekend fire. AP
DHAKA (AP):

Clothing is king in Bangladesh, a country that exports more garments than any other in the world except China. It is responsible for four out of every five export dollars and has turned factory owners into members of parliament and leaders of sports clubs.

That strength has often been turned against the workers in those factories, especially those who complain about poor working conditions and pay that can be less than $40 a month. A law-enforcement agency called the Industrial Police is specifically assigned to deal with unrest in factories, and labour activists accuse government forces of killing one of their leaders. Employees are barred by law from forming trade unions, even though Bangladesh allows workers in other industries to unionise.

latest tragedy

Workers hope that could change following the industry's latest tragedy, a fire Saturday that killed 112 people at a factory that made T-shirts and polo shirts for Wal-Mart and other retailers around the world. But they have their doubts.

"The owners must treat the workers with respect. They should care about their lives and they must keep in mind that they are human beings. They have families, parents and children," said Nazma Akhter, president of Combined Garment Workers Federation. "Is there anybody to really pay any heed to our words?"

There have been many garment-factory fires in Bangladesh, since 2006, more than 300 people have died. But Saturday's was by far the deadliest, and has drawn international attention to labour practices as the government tries to encourage Western countries and companies to expand their relationships here.


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