Made In Bangladesh

Farzana Z. Line
International High school
10th Grade

[1st Place, 9th and 10th Grade Contest, 2014]

       Mahatma Gandhi once said “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.”  In the present time, industry is driven by people’s greed. One of the most successful businesses in the world is the garment industry, in which fabric and clothes are made. Besides China, garment industries are also found in third world countries like Bangladesh where substantial Western clothing companies are taking advantage of the poor, desperate population. Few customers are likely to care who makes their clothes; however, sometimes we should think for a moment about the actual cost of that $14 shirt, and where cheap garment like these come from to make our clothing allowance so affordable?

       Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter and it supplies over $20 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe every year. Bangladesh has more than 5,400 factories around the country and employs four million poor people, mostly women. Numerous famous Western clothing companies’ supplies come from Bangladesh. Companies include H&M, Mango, Sears, Joe Fresh, Hollister, Abercrombie, Kmart, Walmart, Banana Republic, JCPenny, Primark, Children’s Place, Walt Disney, Dress Barn, GAP, Zara, Express, Adidas, Nike, Benetton, Target, US Marines corps and the list continues. Prominent Western clothing companies often go to other countries because they are aware of the lack of unions that allow workers to just wages, thus making production cheaper.

       A $14 polo shirt made in Bangladesh actually costs $5.67 after shipping, taxes, owner and agent cost. Bangladeshi workers earn twelve cents a shirt, almost half of what Chinese garment workers earn and four times less than what Columbian workers make. The employees work six to seven days a week for fourteen to nineteen hours and they earn less than $38 a month, this is one of the lowest wages in the world; yet, owners still hesitate to pay their employees a fair salary. As a Bangladeshi, I know how difficult it is to survive in Bangladesh by only making $38 a month. In addition to the long hours employees do not get paid for overtime. The workers are not getting paid for the hours they are working or the conditions they are forced to put up with. Even if the workers were to get a fair salary, these clothes would still generate profits without having to change the selling price. However, this profit is never enough for some business people. This is just an example of people’s greed; these business people are never satisfied with their profits and they always want more. Many Western clothing companies only know how to make money and how to take advantage of hard-working, poor people of other countries like Bangladesh.

       The Bangladeshi garment industry is one of the most corrupt in the world. The conditions of the factories are very shocking and emergency procedures are very poor. Fire exists are blocked, the safety standards are low, the workplaces are overcrowded, inspections are infrequent, poor electrical wiring makes the job extremely dangerous, and the law for workplace safety is not enforced. The garment worker receives no bathroom breaks, no sick days and no maternity leave. The workers are often physically or verbally abused. Hundreds of workers are crowded into small spaces to produce the largest possible amount of clothing. Employees are never given time off for public holidays, which everyone is entitled to. If the worker misses a day, the person in charge puts them in the chamber room for punishment and cuts three days’ worth of wages. Factory operators sometimes lock the doors of the building to prevent workers from leaving the workplace.  This can prevent them from escaping if a sudden fire breaks out. Child labor can also be found in the Bangladeshi garment industry. Even through it is against Bangladesh law to hire anyone under the age of eighteen; owners hire children so they can pay them low wages. Factory workers are not required to wear masks or any type of protective equipment when they spray jeans with potassium permanganate, is a dangerous toxic substance that can damage the human nervous system. Many garment industry laborers die from injury, fire or accidents every year in Bangladesh.

       On November 24th, 2012 the deadliest factory fire in the nation’s history took place in the Ashulia area of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in which more than 117 workers died and others were severely injured; nonetheless it was overlooked. According to the New York Times, Walmart did not agree to pay the high cost of improvement in electrical and fire safety because it would be very expensive and it is not financially possible for the brands to make such investment. Prominent companies like Walmart are never willing to make the workplace safer; often clothing companies neglect the workplace safety regulation to save some money for their magnificent lifestyle.

       Another industry disaster known as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history took place in Bangladesh on April 24th, 2013 and finally caught the world’s attention. Rana Plaza, an eight- story building, collapsed in the Savar area of Dhaka, Bangladesh.  At the time of the collapse, 3,122 workers were in the building including female workers’ children who were in the nursery. The apartments, shops, and bank in the building closed down directly after cracks were found in the building; however, the factory owner decided to ignore the warning and ordered the factory workers to return to work. The manager of the factory threatened to withhold a month's pay from workers who refused to come to work. The innocent workers were afraid; having no option they reported back to the work place not knowing what was in their fate. More than 1,229 people died that day and 2,515 people were critically injured.  The search for dead bodies ended on May 13th and more than 200 employees are still missing. The innocent workers death was the price they paid for the factory owner’s greed.  The architect said the building was designed for shops and offices not for factories because the structure of the building was not strong enough to withstand heavy machinery and vibration. Due to these reasons, the building started to crack and later collapsed.

       Garrett Morgan Academy’s transportation class conducted a student survey after examining the social injustice that is occurring in Bangladesh. In the survey, the students were asked what they thought about this matter. The majority of the students responded that Bangladesh needs those garment factories because it is hard to find jobs in third world countries. Though this is an understandable point, it does not justify the inhumane treatment of poor people by prominent American and European companies who are taking advantage of poor people by paying them slave wages. On the other hand, some students suggested all countries should call for boycott of clothes that are made in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi should refrain from manufacturing clothing for American and European companies.

       In my opinion, boycotting clothes made in Bangladesh will do more harm than good because as aforementioned, garment industry supports four million people in Bangladesh and it plays a huge role in the country’s economic growth. I believe the only way this conflict can be solved is if prominent companies put aside their greed and spend money on improvement of safety standards and protective equipment. The Bangladesh government should make workplace safety laws harsher, employees should be paid fairly, given more freedom, respect and rights. Child labor in the garment industry should be stopped, and companies should also pay full compensation to disabled victims of garment disasters.

       To conclude, these types of disasters are becoming more frequent in Bangladesh, but the question is how many more people need to die before we value the lives of those workers who make our clothes? Garment industry is beneficial and necessary for all of us. However, we do not want to see blood on our clothing labels or any more deaths. We need to care about the lives of those workers who make our clothes. It is time for companies to have more interest in people rather than just profits. Western clothing companies should not only stop sweatshops in Bangladesh but everywhere. Tragedies that have occurred in Bangladesh must never be repeated.