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Opinion: Bangladesh disaster must be met with improved working conditions

The Rhana Plaza factory in rubble after its collapse on April 24. Photo by rijans (Flickr: Dhaka Savar Building Collapse) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Rhana Plaza factory in rubble after its collapse on April 24. Photo by rijans (Flickr: Dhaka Savar Building Collapse) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

By: SOPHIA MIRZAYEE

Over 1,000 garment workers are dead and thousands more have been left injured following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangledesh on April 24. How did this happen? Reports have unveiled that the day before the incident, there was a temporary evacuation after workers had felt a jolt and noticed large cracks on the pillars within the building. Although the owner was explicitly warned that the site was unsafe, workers were forced to proceed in the unstable conditions, leading to a tragic disaster the morning after.

The tragedy is not the first of its kind in Bangladesh. Last year, 117 people were killed in a factory fire near Dhaka. In 2005, over 60 garment workers died in a similar collapse. Each year, workers continue to die in factories due to the unchanging, dangerous conditions. This recent occurrence at Rhana Plaza is one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, and it will most likely not be the last, as global corporations ruthlessly pursue the gain of profits through the exploitation of sweatshop labour. After each deadly event, Bangladeshi lawmakers, and sweatshop owners, promise to set higher standards for working conditions and prevent future accidents. However, time and time again, they fail to implement and enforce any kind of action plan. Time and time again, governments and factory owners fail to learn from their mistakes and continue to willingly sacrifice the lives of their workers in exchange for mass profit.

The garment industry is credited for approximately 70-80% of the country’s exports, meaning it is essentially what fuels the economy. Conversely, workers in sweatshops receive very little in terms of wages. The industry is known for maintaining a low selling rate to buyers, which include companies in developed nations like the U.S. and Canada. These western companies are aware of the disdainful conditions that workers have to deal with on a daily basis, yet they still do not hesitate to purchase products that originate from such places. They don’t try to create change, but provide a face-saving façade to protect their corporate images and brand names. They are aware that improvement in wages, or in the appalling conditions, would increase their costs. It’s sad, isn’t it, that economic “needs” are being brought to the forefront of this issue while the lives of hard working individuals, whom aren’t even paid what they deserve, are disregarded and cast aside?

According to BBC News, Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus wrote anarticle for a Bangladesh newspaper denouncing the nation’s reaction to the factory collapse. These ongoing tragedies are a “symbol of our failure as a nation… [showing] us that if we don’t face up to the cracks in our state systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse,” he said, urging the government and citizens to work together for reforms.

Indeed, reform is in need. Since these recent events, workers and general citizens have taken to the streets to have their voices heard and defend their human rights. Protests have been taking place all over the world. But it isn’t enough. Such an issue cannot be easily fought, and so it is imperative that resistance against the injustice is persistent. These are unprecedented disasters and they should be met with equally unprecedented resistance from all parts of the world. This should be done not just because we in the West are also implicated and affected, but because we are no longer simply citizens of our country, but rather, citizens of the world.

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