Thursday, April 25, 2013

Come into work and get killed

CONFRONTING firms with responsibility 
Sum of Us

FIRST it was FIRE, now it's a BUILDING COLLAPSE. The high price of cheap clothing and profitable business.

RESCUERS were combing through the rubble today of an eight-storey building which collapsed on Wednesday morning, on the outskirts of Dacca, the Bangladesh capital, killing at least 200 workers, as far as is known up to now.

The building, known as the Rana Plaza, developed cracks in its facade on Tuesday morning, bringing a visit by local government officials. It housed various businesses, including a bank and shops, as well as a garment factory. The bank, Brac Bank, advised staff to stay away due to the danger, but apparently garment workers were told officials had said the building was safe, and they should come into work as normal, or lose two day's pay.

The building collapsed at about 9 a.m.

 Sumi Akhter, 25, told the Bangladeshi news site that she and other workers had been ordered to work despite the obvious structural problems at the building. “I did not want to enter the building. But management told us to go in,” said Akhter, who was being treated at a local hospital. “Hour later, it collapsed."

Bangladeshi workers are on low pay enough,  and dare not risk losing pay or jobs. But many lose their lives in poorly maintained workplaces, receiving scant inspection by the authorities, and with poor enforcement of labour laws. These factories produce cheap garments, and big profits particularly for Western high street retailers.

In November last year more than 110 lives were lost in the Tazreen factory fire. The factory had been producing clothes for Walmart, among other retailers. Emergency exits had apparently been blocked and windows covered with steel bars, and managers had told employees who'd heard rumors of a fire on another floor to go back to work. Many survivors had jumped from the building.

Only recently a survivor of the Tazreen fire was touring the United States with the help of trade unionists and campaigners to try and bring home the responsibility of big companies which impose exacting terms on suppliers competing for contracts.

A factory in the Rana Plaza listed several European and Canadian buyers, including Walmart, on its website, and a report in the Guardian today mentions Primark.

Many people in Dhaka today were angry at how long the rescue operations were taking, with people still heard crying for help from under the debris. Ranging from army soldiers to relatives of the victims, the rescuers were badly equipped let alone trained for their tas. Meanwhile there is anger too at the lack of action against those responsible for this and other disasters. No arrests had been made, and the owner of the building, a government politician, Mohammad Sohel Rana, was reportdly escorted from the area, not by police but by his party supporters.

Meanwhile, here, as well the finger of responsibility pointing at companies which profit from the cheapness of lives as well as labour in countries like Bangladesh, the disaster should serve as a reminder of what unfettered capitalism can do, when it does not have to worry about adequate safety inspections, or the "health and safety culture" decried by our government and media.

Sunday, April 28 is International Workers' Memorial Day - a day to remember the dead and campaign for the living.

Building collapse after workers told to come in

Survivor calls on firms to support safe and fair labour

Workers Memorial Day (1)

International Workers Memorial Day

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