When people buy from brands like Nike and shop at stores like H&M and Gap, they do not pay much attention to how the products arrived at the stores. In many cases, these clothing products are produced in sweatshops in developing countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Almost half of the population in Bangladesh lives off of less than a dollar a day.
Garment workers in Bangladesh toil day after day under extremely harsh conditions for low wages, sometimes handling dangerous chemicals with their bare hands and inhaling toxic fumes due to poor ventilation in many factories.
In April of 2013, an eight story building in Bangladesh called Rana Plaza collapsed leaving over 100 dead and over 2,000 injured.
The poor conditions of the factory itself and the lack of safety precautions taken to ensure its workers’ well-being were neglected and therefore led to the collapse. In addition to this incident, there has been a history of factory mishaps over the past couple of years in Bangladesh. In November of 2012, the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh caught fire and killed 112 of its workers.
At this time, the factory was producing goods for Walmart.
Besides the incidents themselves, it is also important to focus on the working conditions and the violations of human rights that happen daily in factories like these. According to the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, workers in the Tazreen factory work 72-81 hours per week. Their salary depends on their sewing skill; senior sewing operators earn at minimum 23 cents per hour and junior sewing operators earn 21 to 22 cents an hour.
As a majority of the workers are women, abuse is common and some are even denied maternity leave — blatant violations of human rights that have been occurring for years. Even after one tragedy, further precautions are not taken to ensure the safety of the workers.
An article from the Daily Mail accounts a Canadian journalist who worked undercover in Bangladesh and witnessed the atrocities of one of the smaller garment factories. She reported that when she first arrived at the sweatshop, a nine-year-old girl named Meem was in charge of training her.
The article also noted that there were “no fire extinguishers, only one exit – the front door – and little more than a hole in the ground, down a rat-infested hall, for the toilet.” These accounts present the harsh reality for many garment workers in Bangladesh.
Violations of human rights are happening elsewhere too—most recently in Cambodia. Workers there have started protesting in the city Phnom Penh for higher wages.
Sometimes people take things for granted because they are easily accessible. Organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign have been established to spread awareness of this issue and to help those who have been detained for protesting for higher wages and better conditions. By not purchasing products from companies who outsource their work unfairly to other countries, a better future can be created for garment workers whose human rights have been violated.
– Kenneth W. Kliesner