BDI Statement on Savar Tragedy
Bangladesh Development Initiative
5541 Bondy Drive, Erie, PA 16509, USA
15160 SE 54th Place, Bellevue, WA 98006, USA
In Solidarity with the Garment Workers
Members representing the Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) are deeply saddened and angered by the most recent tragedy in the Bangladesh Garment Industry. In our view, the collapse of Rana Plaza, the eight-storied building in Savar which killed nearly 400 people, maimed hundreds others, with many more remaining trapped and feared dead, was the result of unmitigated greed, corruption, criminal negligence, and was entirely avoidable. We are horrified that despite clear signs of danger and police orders to evacuate the building, the workers were forced to work under the threat of pay-cuts. The owners and managers of these garments factories clearly violated the police order and the law, according to media reports.
We express our deepest condolences to the families of workers who have lost their lives and those who are injured, and express our solidarity with RMG workers, the unions and other groups who are striving for improved safety and humane working conditions. We support their call for justice, and for stringent punishment for the perpetrators of this man-made tragedy. We are heartened by and applaud the spontaneous and self-less efforts of many ordinary men and women, rescue teams, and medical services who have provided support ever since the accident. With little resources and even less training, and sometimes at great personal danger, they did their utmost to help the wounded, rescue the trapped, and provide relief to thousands. Their heroic actions have made us proud of our fellow citizens, and give us hope for our future.
We condemn the negligence, irresponsibility, and impunity with which garment-factory owners have been able to operate outside the law, especially after the incident at Tazreen factory five months earlier, which killed 112 people. Part of the blame must be shared by foreign buyers who have looked the other way, instead of insisting on higher safety standards. It is clear that worker-safety standards have not improved; instead, industrial accidents are becoming more frequent and deadlier. We note with satisfaction that the owners of the relevant garment industries and the owner of this building have been apprehended. The BGMEA has suspended all of the garment businesses housed in Rana Plaza—New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Styles, Phantom Apparels Track, and EtherTex. While these individual owners bear primary responsibility for the disaster, so do the engineers, the architects, the contractors, and the safety inspectors involved who took advantage of the prevailing culture of corruption and political patronage in the country to disregard legal codes and violate safety standards. Justice will not be served only by punishing the perpetrators individually, but by ensuring adequate compensation to each of the 6,000 or so affected workers and their families by seizing the assets of the owners for realizing restorative justice. We demand a speedy trial so that justice is not delayed and expect that the full force of the law will be applied against those found guilty.
The situation in the Bangladesh RMG industry today is similar to that of the garment industry in the United States at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York that killed 124 people on March 25, 1911. That tragedy had caused a mass movement that brought together different classes of people to demand reforms, and eventually created the Factory Investigating Commission that was responsible for assessing workplaces in New York, and the Bureau of Fire Prevention which required stairwells, fire alarms, extinguishers and hoses to be installed in all factories. Let this latest tragedy be the catalyst for similar systemic changes in the RMG industry in Bangladesh so that such preventable accidents are minimized.
We stand in solidarity with the thousands of RMG workers who have taken to the streets in their struggle for justice, dignity, and emancipation. We urge the unions, the workers, and their supporters to maintain calm, protest peacefully, and channel their anger towards achieving progressive change. The safety problems do not lie only with individual owners of these factories—rather these are systemic problems that demand comprehensive and industry-wide solutions and reforms.
We urge BGMEA to face up to the fact that many more garment factories are in violation of existing regulations and thus it urgently needs to devise strategies to enforce existing laws and work in conjunction with workers and unions, in addition to factory owners, government regulatory agencies, and foreign buyers, to ensure safe and humane working conditions in every factory in the country urgently. Failure to do so would not only cost more lives but would lead to the decline of the entire garment industry in Bangladesh as buyers and retailers increasingly shun apparels “tainted with blood”.
Navine Murshid represents the voice of BDI members.
(BDI is a non-partisan research and advocacy group based in the United States)
For more information on BDI, please visit www.bdiusa.org.