Bangladesh garment workers need union advocacy, says Ms. Kalpona Akter

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Migrant women garment workers
The often overlooked woman migrant garment worker in Bangladesh is extra vulnerable to exploitation and violence by employers. These women were part of a “Network for Prevention and Protection of Women Migrant Workers from Violence” sponsored by the United Nations last year. Image: UN Women

(WNN) Dhaka, BANGLADESH, SOUTH ASIA: Horrendous factory fires and other disasters have alerted the public worldwide to the labor exploitation of garment workers in Bangladesh. But even with improvements on a new focus in Bangladesh to make factory buildings more safe, it’s not time to let up on public pressure under and industry that has too often shown little regard for women who work in the textile industries.

Kalpona Akter,  a former child factory worker and now Executive Director of Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, speaks out about the current needs and conditions for women most people don’t even consider when they buy clothes.

“The bottom line is, we need these jobs. It is important for those females who work  in the factory to work these jobs with dignity and in a dignified way,” says Akter during her recent radio interview.

Safety through a dignified place to work, along with a union representative voice for workers is what’s needed say union advocate, Kalpona Akter.

As the Executive Director of Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity Akter’s strong advocacy has been getting more human rights and worker’s rights for women working inside the garment industry in the region. Akter’s experience as a garment worker herself is part of the fuel that keeps her going as a voice for women who have worked under an industry that has been rife with deplorable conditions.

In this interview Akter outlines how one piece of ‘high-end’ clothing that sells for hundreds of dollars in the West is the same piece of clothing that garment workers only get paid ten cents (USD) to produce. Some of the large Western buyers of Bangladesh clothing from the Rana Plaza Complex, the garment factory where 1,100 workers died during a factory fire, are still not paying any money to the families of those who died in the fires.

Akter describes a searing account of the Rana Plaza fire where mostly women workers were locked in and unable to get out of the burning factory building, causing death to those who were trapped.

Collapse of the Rana Plaza building Dhaka, Bangladesh
On 24 April 2013 in the Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building that housed a large garment factory collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. Image: Jaber Al Nahian


WINGS – Women’s International News Gathering Service

Host/Producer: Laura Yaros

Featured guest: Kalpona Akter

Series Producer: Frieda Werden / WINGS

Original Recording Date: 14 December, 2013

Length: 28:48


The Textile industry in Bangladesh began for the very first time to allow local private regional factory ownership in the early 1970s, but the industry inside Bangladesh was fraught with low industry safety standards for workers, mostly women, who worked long hours in horrible conditions where some employers would lock the doors so workers would be forced to keep working without any break. This caused too many women garment workers to face death during factory fires more than once. Over 1,000 workers have been killed in one year alone.

Documented as one of the most unsafe industries in the world in Bangladesh, the country has a troubled record of accidents, including 213 factory fires between the years 2006 to 2009. This figure does not count the more recent garment factory fires in Bangladesh where the high death toll from workers who were trapped and unable to get out of a burning building in the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April 2013.

Because of this, safety today continues to be a large concern for those women workers who must work in the garment industry in order to pay their family’s bills in the capital city of Bangladesh in Dhaka.

According to human rights advocates at HRW – Human Rights Watch, large global corporate customers that hired and bought clothing products from the efforts of the garment workers who worked and died in the Rana Plaza Complex include: Walmart, Gap, American Eagle, H&M, Primark, Asda, NEXT, Carrefour, Lacoste, Just Jeans, Target (Australia) and Woolworths (Australia). These companies have conveyed though the the news media that they did not have any direct relationship with the factory itself because of subcontracting brokers who make arrangements for goods from Bangladesh.

Regardless of this global labor rights activists feel that the corporations should pay ‘wrongful death’ fines to the families where a family member has died because of the deplorable conditions they endured that caused their untimely death.

With a constant push to show more public annual profit margins, one Western clothing brand outlined why Bangladesh garment factories was their only choice, during a survey study of the current Bangladesh textile industry made by the United Kingdom’s House of Commons APPG All-Party Parliamentary Group of Bangladesh.

“Problems with infrastructure, corruption and compliance had pulled Bangladesh down the rankings; yet owing to the cost factor alone, the brand had, in words of its VPs, ‘no choice’ about whether or not to source from the country,” said one unnamed large western clothing distributor to the APPG during their November 2013 survey study of the situation in Bangladesh.


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