Two owners of a Bangladesh garment factory where 112 workers died in a fire fourteen months ago have turned themselves in to the authorities in Dhaka. Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of homicide. Investigators said the nine-storey factory had no emergency exits and many of the gates were locked from the outside. State prosecutor Anwarul Kabir states that the owners had done little to ensure the safety of their workers. He said that as “the beneficiary of the factory”, that “the responsibility for what occurred lies on them”.
The Tazreen fire was, at the time, the country’s deadliest garment factory fire. The disaster caught the attention of the world’s media and highlighted the horrific conditions many of Bangladesh’s factory workers are forced to work in. Just a few months later, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed killing 1,135 people.
Following Rana Plaza, the world united in solidarity to help the victims, prevent future incidents and improve the working conditions of Bangladesh’s garment workers. The story was front page news across the globe. The fashion industry quickly rallied and drew up an accord committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi garment industry. Politicians declared it a ‘terrible and avoidable catastrophe’ and consumers vowed to shop more ethically and avoid the fast fashion retailers known to use the offending factories. Even the Pope got involved declaring it ‘against God’. But as time goes by, people forget. How many politicians mention the subject now it’s out of the media spotlight? How many fashion retailers actually signed up to the accord? And in an unstable economy, how many of us have given much thought to the origin of that steal of a jumper on sale in H&M?
In addition to dangerous working conditions, many employees work under slave labour type conditions. A report by Swedish documentary Kalla Facta which aired in November 2012 accused H&M of paying garment workers less than 25% of a living wage. They also alleged that the factories were overcrowded and have poor working conditions. The camera crew followed garment worker Deuar Sophon who told them that she is forced to take out high-interest loans to purchase food despite working 70 hours per week making garments for H&M. In February 2013 it was also reported that Spanish retail giant Zara has been accused of employing immigrant workers, including children, to produce clothes in “degrading” sweatshop conditions in Argentina. The Bolivian workers claimed that they were made to work for more than 13 hours a day and were not allowed leave the factory without permission.
Bangladesh is the second biggest exporter of clothes in the world and its £13billion textiles industry provides money and jobs for millions of workers. Pulling out of the country would cripple a nation so heavily reliant on its garment exports which account for a staggering 80% of total exports. Providing a fair wage and safe working conditions surely isn’t too much to ask?
Remember, don’t let the retailers get complacent, don’t let the politicians forget their promises and think before you buy. There is a reason the clothes are cheap – someone else is paying the price, often with their lives…