Economic & Political
August 20, 2011 vol xlvI no 34
If we consider the price level, especially prices of the main essential goods con-sumed by low-income earners, then thereal wage is lower at the new nominal wage in 2010.With income much below the poverty line, garment workers are at starvationlevels of living. Various studies indicatemalnutrition, disease and ill-health causedfrom over work, going hungry or low foodintake, and suffocating shelter (
2000; Muhammad 2007a; Sobhan andKhundker 2001; Sweatfree 2010). But thisis not the end of their suffering – they faceabuse in the workplace, sexual harass-ment and rape, and even death.
On 23 February 2006 a re broke out at
Garments in Chittagong. Specialarrangements were made on that day foran emergency night shift; food wasarranged for about a thousand workers.But how many of the workers could escapethe deadly re? Nobody knows for sure,even today. I personally visited the factory three days after; yet I met many who werelooking for their daughters, sisters or rela-tives who were working in that factory.Even after three days nobody was allowedto enter the factory. I managed to take aquick look in different areas up to thethird oor. Hundreds of small bags usually carried by female workers were here andthere. I found those totally empty. Whohave stolen the “precious” things fromthese bags? No one was allowed to enterafter the re broke out; the factory wasstrictly guarded by police and the Rapid Action Battalion (
). The workers didnot have much money to be looted. Theonly thing they had – very important tothem – was their
card, which was theonly proof of their identity and their link with the factory. That was the main proof to identify and count the dead and injured,and to make a claim for compensation.The owners had every reason to takethose cards away. Possible claims for com-pensation also explain the unwillingnessof many employers to give appointmentletters to the workers.Since the early 1990s, more than athousand people, mostly teenage girls,lost their lives in different garment facto-ries because of eitherre, or collapse of an un-authorised factory build-ing, or secret killing by goons or in police ring.Some factories reported-ly kept their gates closedduring re incidents. On6 January 2005, duringa re at Shaan Knittingand Processing in Naray-anganj, all the gates of the building werekept locked. The incident claimed 23 lives.The collapse of a nine-story garmentfactory building at Savar near Dhaka on11 April 2005 caused more than 100 workerdeaths and another 100 workers missing.Suddenly turned into a mass grave, thefactory had been producing nearly 80,000items of clothes annually for the marketsof Europe and the
. This building wasconstructed without proper authorisation. A re in a building that housed SaiemFashions and other garment factories,killed three workers and injuring 50 inMarch 2006. Three more factory accidentsoccurred in early 2006, two in Dhaka andone in Chittagong, leaving at least 142 workers killed and more than 500 injuredmany of them disabled for life. Newspaperreports made it clear that all these acci-dents took place due to lack of propersafety measures at the factories. Thesereports also revealed the fact that
according to ofcial statistics, only threeinspectors are engaged in inspectingsafety measures at as many as 15,000factories under the Dhaka divisional fac-tory inspection ofce. And only 20 in-spectors are now deployed to inspectaround 50,000 registered factories in thecountry – four of them are working at thehead ofce, six at the Dhaka divisional of-ce, and three at Chittagong, Khulna andRajshahi divisional ofces (
,28 February 2006).
The following list of factory res anddeaths was published in
The Daily Star
on27 February 2010 after another deadly fac-tory re. The list...