Bangladesh garment factory workers

Workers enter a Bangladesh garment factory in 2009. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 2.4 million garment workers are women.

Tragedy has struck garment factory workers in Bangladesh once again: A building that housed multiple garment factories in Savar, Bangladesh, collapsed the morning of April 24. Initial reports indicate that more than 80 workers, mostly women, were killed.

According to media reports, employees were ordered to work even though visible cracks had been discovered in the eight-storey building the day before. In addition to the dozens of workers who lost their lives, others remain trapped in the rubble and potentially hundreds more have been injured.

The garment industry in Bangladesh has a long a history of deadly accidents, fires and poor working conditions. In November 2012, 117 workers perished in a massive fire at Tazreen Fashions, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in what is called the nation’s worst and most fatal factory fire. That fire was ruled to stem from the employer’s “gross negligence” and went as far as to suggest that it was an act of sabotage.

In his September 2010 EHS Today feature, “Fashion Kills: Industrial Manslaughter in the Global Supply Chain,” Garrett Brown writes:

“The health and safety of garment workers effectively can be protected only if these workers have the information about the hazards they face on the job, the power and opportunity to meaningfully participate in workplace safety programs and the right to stop working if they are locked into fire-trap factories or poisoned day and night by airborne chemicals.”

An Appalling Safety Record

Fatal Fashion,” a recent report from the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), called the safety record in the Bangladesh garment industry “appalling.”

“Fatal Fashion” examined the Tazreen Fashions fire and the September 2012 Ali Enterprises factory fire in Pakistan that killed 315 people. The report stressed that catastrophic fires like these “are not stand-alone incidents, but the result of systemic hazardous conditions in the garment industry in Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

“The two cases treated in this report are symptoms of an ailing system,” the report stated. “They reflect systemic flaws on the level of government protection of human rights and lack of respect shown by the garment industry for workers’ rights. The garment industries in Bangladesh and Pakistan are notorious for their low wages, repression of unions and demanding and unsafe working conditions. With regard to fire safety, this means that workers are not in the position to monitor or report freely about safety hazards.”

Following Tazreens Fashions fire, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability urged corporations to implement effective safety management programs and practices in their supply chains to help prevent such catastrophic fires and deplorable working conditions. Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH, ASSE vice president for professional affairs and chair of the center board, pointed out that any corporation “wishing to proclaim itself as ‘sustainable’ must have a safety management system in place to protect its workers, and in a similar manner any ‘sustainable’ organization using suppliers from underdeveloped and developing nations must also require those suppliers to protect the safety and health of their employees.”

See additional photographs by Taslima Akhter documenting the lives of garment workers in Bangladesh.

Factory Collapse in Bangladesh Kills More than 80 Workers
EHS Today