The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current, May 05, 2014, Page Page 4, Image 4

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    ASIA / PACIFIC
Page 4 n THE ASIAN REPORTER
May 5, 2014
One year after factory collapse, Bangladeshis suffer
FACTORY FALLOUT. A Bangladeshi woman
holds a candle and a portrait of a missing relative,
a victim of last year’s Rana Plaza building collapse,
during a gathering on the eve of the anniversary of
the tragedy in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. More
than 1,100 people were killed when the illegally con-
structed, eight-story building collapsed on April 24,
2013 in a heap along with thousands of workers in
the five garment factories in the building. The placard
reads “Farzana, Rana Plaza missing.” (AP Photo/A.M.
Ahad)
By Julhas Alam
The Associated Press
S
AVAR, Bangladesh — One year
after the Rana Plaza garment fac-
tory collapsed in a pile of concrete
slabs and twisted metal, Bangladeshi
seamstress Shefali says she would rather
starve to death than return to factory
work.
Like many survivors of the worst
disaster the garment industry has ever
seen, 18-year-old Shefali, who goes by one
name, says she suffers from depression
and has flashbacks of the catastrophe that
killed more than 1,100 people. She was
injured in the collapse that happened a
year ago and has lingering back pain.
And despite efforts by western brands to
improve safety at the Bangladeshi facto-
ries that produce their clothes, Shefali
fears nothing good will trickle down to the
poorest of the poor. The country has one of
the lowest minimum wages in the world —
about $66 a month — while churning out
goods for some of the world’s leading
retailers.
“We die, we suffer, nobody takes care of
us,” Shefali said as she toured the site of
the collapse, now a barren, fenced-off
expanse. She hasn’t started working again
and stays at home with her parents.
“I had dreams of getting married, having
my own family,” she said. “But now
everything looks impossible.”
There have been some significant devel-
opments. The owner of the illegally con-
structed Rana Plaza building is behind
bars, pending an investigation, but there
has been no word on when he will be put on
trial. The owners of the five factories
operating inside the building also have
been detained.
Authorities have appointed more factory
inspectors, plan to appoint more, and say
they aim to ensure that no new factories
are built without following proper safety
regulations.
But problems remain. According to Hu-
man Rights Watch (HRW), the interna-
tional companies that sourced garments
from five factories operating in the Rana
Plaza building are not contributing
enough to the trust fund set up to support
survivors and the families of those who
died.
“One year after Rana Plaza collapsed,
far too many victims and their families are
at serious risk of destitution,” said Phil
Robertson, deputy Asia director at the
organization. “International garment
brands should be helping the injured and
the dependents of dead workers who
manufactured their clothes.”
The target for the fund, chaired by the
International Labor Organization, is $40
million, but only $15 million has been
raised so far, HRW said. Retailers
Bonmarche, El Corte Ingles, Loblaw, and
Primark have all pledged money.
Mojtaba Kazazi, a former U.N. official
who heads a committee to execute the
fund, said they have started disbursing
50,000 takas ($640) as initial payments to
the families of the victims.
The very structure of Bangladesh’s
garment industry is also viewed as
problematic.
According to a recent study by New York
University’s (NYU) Stern School of
Business, an “essential feature” of the
sector involves factories subcontracting
work to other workshops that have even
worse conditions.
“In the absence of regulation by the gov-
ernment of Bangladesh, the prevalence of
indirect sourcing has resulted in a supply
chain driven by the pursuit of lowest nomi-
nal costs,” said Sarah Labowitz, co-direc-
tor of the NYU Stern Center for Business
and Human Rights and co-author of the
report. “That means that factories receiv-
ing subcontracts are operating on razor-
thin margins that leave concerns about
safety and workers’ rights perpetually
unaddressed.”
Many garment workers are skeptical
that there will be any lasting change.
When the collapse occurred on April 24,
2013, thousands of Bangladeshis were
toiling inside the Rana Plaza in Savar, the
center of the country’s $20 billion garment
industry.
A violent jolt shook the floors around
9:00am. Then the eight-story building
gave a deafening groan, the pillars gave
way, and the entire structure went down in
a heap with terrifying speed.
Investigators say a host of factors con-
tributed to its collapse: It was overloaded
with machines and generators, construct-
ed on swampy land, and the owner added
floors in violation of the original building
plan.
The final death toll was 1,135 people,
with thousands more rescued from the
wreckage. Rescuers found Reshma Begum
17 days after the collapse, and authorities
say her survival was miraculous.
When the building began to crumble
around her, Begum said she raced down a
stairwell into the basement, where she
became trapped near a wide pocket that
allowed her to survive.
She found some dried food and bottles of
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water that saved her life.
Although her story has a happy ending
— she now works in an international hotel
in Dhaka’s upscale Gulshan area —
Begum is still haunted by the disaster.
“I can’t tolerate darkness in my room at
night. The light is switched on always,”
Begum said in an interview from her sis-
ter’s home in Savar. “If the light is turned
off, I start panicking. It feels like ... What I
can say? Like I am still there (at the Rana
Plaza).”
Begum, who says she is either 18 or 19
years old, is waiting for the day that the
factory owners face justice.
“So many people have died because of
them,” she said. “I want to see them
executed.”
Although some of the Rana Plaza
workers have left the garment industry for
good, others have returned to a job that
many see as a path out of poverty. Every
year, at least 300,000 rural residents —
and perhaps as many as 500,000 —
migrate to the Dhaka area, already one of
the most crowded cities on the planet.
Poverty remains the norm across most of
rural Bangladesh, where less than 60
percent of adults are literate. To them, the
steady wage of a garment factory can lift
their living standards significantly.
On the eve of the anniversary of the
collapse, a spokesman for Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina tried to head off criticism of
the government response and said the
country must protect the lucrative
garment industry.
“Bangladesh is working hard to improve
conditions,” the spokesman, Mahbubul
Hoque Shakil, said. “All must keep in mind
that if this important sector faces any
setback from any negative propaganda,
millions of families of the workers will be
the main victims.”
Sherpas struggle with
climbing season in disarray
Continued from page 2
money on food, equipment,
oxygen, paying porters to
get all that to base camp. ...
How are we going to bear
all these losses?”
The Sherpas who stand
to lose the most from
walking off the job are the
ones who take foreign
clients up to the summit
and carry their gear,
although hundreds more
who cook and clean at base
camp would also be hurt.
Trekking officials were
more optimistic.
Ang Tshering of the Ne-
pal Mountaineering Asso-
ciation acknowledged that
it would be tough for many
Sherpas and their families
this year, but he noted that
most Sherpas had already
received at least some
money for the season.
“There are many more
Sherpas, like the porters
who carry the loads to the
base camp and bring it
back to the airport, who
will be paid in full,” he said.
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