Us is working alongside the Church of Bangladesh to win justice and safety for garment workers in Bangladesh
The Justice for Bangladeshi Garment Workers campaign has been launched by the Church of Bangladesh Group (a coalition of churches and Christian organisations, which includes Us) in response to the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh, on 24 April 2013.
Christians in developed countries, who benefit from the cut-price clothing produced in Bangladesh, are being urged to put pressure on retailers.
The campaign is supporting people like Reshmi Begum (photo credit: Anglican Alliance), a 30-year-old married machine operator, who works at a one-storey garment factory at Savar, Dhaka, in sweltering conditions for the equivalent of £40 to £60 a month, including overtime.
Reshmi's only sister Shyla died at Rana Plaza.
The campaign is calling for:
- Global justice: Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter. It has one of the highest wage inequalities in the world, and wages in the industry went down between 2001 and 2011.
- Wage justice: Average wages in the garment industry in Bangladesh were well below the country’s living wage.
- Living justice: Since 2005 an estimated 1,800 Bangladesh garment workers have been killed in factory fires and collapses.
The disaster that highlighted the plight of garment workers
The Rana Plaza disaster was the worst garment factory accident, and deadliest accidental structural failure, in history. A total of 1,131 people died and 2,500 were injured. More than half the victims were women and their children.
Rana Plaza contained garments factories, a bank, apartments and shops. When cracks were discovered in the building, garment factory managers ignored the warnings and ordered employees to return to work, with fatal consequences.
A government inquiry found five main reasons for the collapse: shoddy construction materials, corrupt building practices, flouting of building codes, vibrating industrial equipment at the top of a commercial building, and people being forced into an unsafe structure.
Responses to the disaster
The Church of Bangladesh supported rescue teams, helped injured workers and their families, and has now developed an advocacy campaign based on the factory workers’ needs.
Some of the world’s biggest fashion chains have said they will finance up to £30 million-worth of safety improvements in Bangladesh factories. And the Bangladeshi government agreed to let the country’s four million garment workers form trade unions without permission from factory owners, as well as increasing the minimum wage (although not as high as garment worker leaders wanted).
Implementation of these new arrangements needs to be monitored – so they aren’t empty promises. And there must be equality for women: the main labour force, but grossly exploited.
The Rt Revd Paul S Sarker, Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, said: ‘We have a plan to do more for victims. At the same time our church has taken an initiative to form a social action and advocacy forum.’
Bishop Paul stressed that advocacy work should NOT try to discourage importers and buyers from working in Bangladesh because a large number of poor people depend on jobs in this sector. Instead, the aim is to keep the industry going with better conditions for the poor.
Justice for Bangladeshi Garment Workers is calling for:
- Security for workers, protection from fire and unhygienic conditions in the factories keeping factory gates open with guards during working hours
- Fair wages with equal pay for men and women
- Facilities on-site for infants and babies of women garment workers
- Health facilities for pregnant women garment workers
- Canteen facilities for lunch and breaks
- Safety uniforms and equipment for those doing risky work
- Holidays for festivals, sickness and family circumstances
- An industry wide forum to work with government to improve industry standards.
The Church of Bangladesh Group includes: Anglican Alliance, Church Mission Society, Church of Scotland, Council for World Mission, Diocese of Llandaff, Methodist Church in Britain, Oxford Mission, Us (formerly USPG).