When the crack-strewn walls of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed on April 24, 2013, killing over twelve hundred workers—some crushed instantly, some pinned for days beneath a tomb of concrete and cloth—a global system of exploitation lay exposed for the world to see. There, in the streets of Dhaka, garment factory capital of the world, the contradiction between the pursuit of profit and the needs of struggling humanity stood starkly revealed.
Built illegally on loose swampy soil, on grabbed land that was not fit for industry, the recklessly stacked floors of Rana Plaza exemplified the lack of regulation, the unchecked greed, and the deadly chaos of the global garment industries. In this industry, the vast majority of profits flow to major international corporations (like GAP and Wal-Mart), while local factory owners ruthlessly compete with one another to win the retailer contracts, squeezing as much production—and profit—out of desperate and unorganized workers as they can. Exploiting a neoliberal regulation-free environment, companies like the GAP pit factory against factory, just as the factory owners pit worker against worker to keep wages low. The brutal race to the bottom that the big corporations orchestrate has its logical end-point in actual factory floors and ceilings collapsing around the workers’ heads.
The ruins of Rana represent the most horrific industrial catastrophe on earth in at least three decades, the worst ever factory disaster in the garment industry. It is the industrial equivalent of “9/11,” that event we are repeatedly told to “never forget.” Here though the “terrorist” is global capitalism.
The owners of corporations like the GAP and Wal-Mart, who profit from these death traps, would like us to forget this massive industrial homicide, and the responsibility they bear for it. We, in the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network, however, are committed to remembering Rana, and to holding accountable those corporations, like the GAP, who make their profits through the production of misery.
We are picketing the GAP Store in Faneuil Hall, Boston on Saturday, June 15 at 12 noon, to inform GAP customers, workers, managers, as well as the broader community, about the conditions of the workers who make GAP clothes, and to expose the gap between the rhetoric and the reality when it comes to the global garment industry. We welcome all those reading this to join us in the streets!
Our Solidarity Network is committed to honoring the memory of the victims of the Rana disaster (and other disasters such as the recent Tazreen factory fire), and to standing in solidarity with garment workers who are struggling, both in Bangladesh and around the world. We aim to name and shame those who profit from and perpetuate this exploitative, dehumanizing system, and to put pressure on corporations to improve working conditions in line with the workers’ own demands.
Though ignored by American media, workers in Bangladesh continue to struggle for their rights and human dignity, in the face of employer intimidation and police repression. Six weeks since the collapse, many of the families affected have still not received a dime of promised compensation, just as many of the hundreds injured have yet to receive the medical care they need. Just last week fourteen workers were killed by police while protesting for promised compensation. Without such support, many Rana survivors have had no choice but to return to labor in yet another garment factory, taking their chances in another potential death trap, in exchange for poverty wages that amount to less than 1% of the value of the products they produce.
As fellow workers, consumers, and as human beings, we stand with garment workers as they demand:
1) Safe and secure workplaces for all—to be verified by the representatives of the workers’ themselves. We call for the GAP and other retailers to sign on to the independent “Fire and Safety Agreement” (not their sham substitute agreement with Wal-Mart) as a step towards creating a means for inspecting factory facilities and a structure of accountability for corporations doing business in Bangladesh.
2) An end to employer practices of chaining factory doors, locking workers inside. Many workers have died in recent factory fires, not only because the factory conditions themselves have been fire-prone, but because after fires have broken out, they could not escape. Human lives should be put ahead of employer desires for total control.
3) Adequate, immediate, dignified compensation for factory disaster victims and their families. Reparations should be paid to the workers of Rana and Tazreen by those corporations that have profited from production in Dhaka factories.
4) Full respect for workers’ rights to association, organization, and public assembly. Protesting or striking workers should not be subjected to violent attacks by hired goons or police. Forming unions is a human right!
5) A livable global minimum wage for all garment workers. The industries that are exploiting these workers are a globalized power, seeking to pit one people against another, across national lines. Our resistance to exploitation must be as international as capital is.
Finally, we demand full disclosure from GAP management of the specific factories where its garments are being made (with this information to be updated on an ongoing basis). Customers must be informed about the working conditions that go into producing the clothes on GAP shelves.
We in the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network vow to continue to organize picket-lines, educational events, and other actions until the demands of the workers are met. We hope that those who are reading this letter will join us in the streets, if not for this action, then for the next one, if not in Boston, then in front of a GAP (or Wal-Mart) store near you.