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No Silver Lining

April 30, 2013

All is not well in Bangladesh. There is no silver lining in the ongoing political crisis. In this backdrop, the collapse of an 8-story building, poorly built on a grabbed property violating building code, shocked the whole nation. It is indeed country’s biggest garment sector tragedy. In the blink of an eye, Rana Plaza reduced to rubble. Death toll has already reached to 386, there are fears that it will increase. Many are still missing and thousands are injured, hundreds of whom have been amputated.

A hearing on GSP facility given to Bangladeshi garments in US market is already going on in the US following complaints from different trade organizations about the poor working conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories. This Rana Plaza disaster is definitely going to have a deep impact on GSP hearing.

Long before the Savar tragedy, international donor organizations and country’s leading think tanks forecast a slow GDP growth rate for current fiscal year. In the wake of violent hartals, BGMEA organized a press briefing where the organization claimed ongoing political turbulence cost the industry losing the new Russian market and cancellation of orders worth millions of dollars. Rana Plaza disaster is a further blow to the deteriorating apparel sector growth.

For the last couple of days, news of Bangladesh has been dominating the international media. After watching awful images and footage, the western consumers have more negative impressions of Bangladeshi garment products than ever before. This, in turn, put pressure on international clothing retailers to import less Bangladeshi garments. But it will not help the poor workers, nor will it help to punish the owners who are responsible for such horrific deaths.

Buried deep under the rubble of Rana Plaza are dreams of thousands of penniless workers who lived a Spartan life. They dreamed to live a life that will be free of hunger, disease and all kinds of trouble. Sometimes their salaries had been delayed for two or three months, sometimes they were underpaid. Sometimes they were robed or raped by street goons while they were on their way back home. Sometimes they paid overcharged rent to their landlords. Yet for a moment they did not cease chasing that dream. They kept their factories running 24/7.

Cracks developed into the pillars of Rana Plaza before its collapse already spread to the vital relationship between workers and owners of apparel industry. Following Rana Plaza disaster, we have seen spontaneous workers protest in many areas across Dhaka. Before the crack widens and brings down the whole apparel industry, BGMEA should come forward to soothe the workers and to ensure their safety at work place.

Tajreen factory fire, 112 workers burnt alive in that incident, has not gone yet into oblivion. We still do not know what happened to the owner of Tajreen garments. We also do not know how many of the Tajreen victims received compensation. What we know is that the owner of Tajreen garments is a Canadian citizen. In a TV talk show, one leading online columnist and journalist,also lived several years in Canada, revealed that most luxurious houses of Canadian cities are owned by few Bangladeshi garment factory owners. Canada has an immigration policy that aims at businessmen of other countries. Australia and Malaysia also have similar immigration policies. Are these policies not allowing few irresponsible businessmen, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats (both civil and military) to take safe refuge abroad? Governments of these countries should amend their citizenship laws and help the poor countries in their fight against corruption and in implementing worker friendly conditions in the factories.

As the Army clear debris, more decomposed bodies are coming out of the carcass of Rana Plaza. After Tajreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse, what is waiting for us next? How long will man-made disasters like fire, building collapse and political violence continue to happen? How many lives will they take? How long will it take to punish the culpable persons?

Life is indeed very cheap in this country. It is even cheaper than the cloths!

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