Citing meager wages, dangerous working conditions, and exploitative work practices, Representative George Miller (D-CA) yesterday called on the apparel industry to do more to improve working conditions and support the human rights of workers at garment factories in Bangladesh. “If they don’t,” Miller said, “their clothing labels may as well read: ‘made with violence against women.’”
Miller met yesterday with Reba Sikder, an 18-year-old garment worker from Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, and multiple members of Congress to discuss not only the dangerous and violent workplace conditions that exist for garment workers, but also what can be done to improve the situation.
“The apparel industry has created millions of jobs for Bangladeshi women,” said Miller. “But your job should not cost you your life. We must call out the clothing brands that manufacture irresponsibly in Bangladesh. Not only are they complicit in driving the race to the bottom that pits countries against each other at the expense of workers, but they are taking advantage of societal norms that do not hold women in equal regard.”
Sikder, a survivor of the factory collapse at Rana Plaza that killed over 1,100 and injured 2,500, has been working since the age of 8 and became a garment factory worker at 14. She explained that on the day of the factory collapse, a huge crack had appeared on the side of the Plaza building – but her boss told her if she did not enter to work, she would lose her wages and overtime for the month. Within minutes of entering the building, it collapsed. She was trapped inside for over two days, injured and surrounded by dead bodies.
“My life has been so incredibly hard in the last year,” Sikder said, describing how challenging it is for her to cope with the trauma of the incident in finding new work. “My heart breaks even more for all the other workers and families affected by the Rana Plaza building collapse. Because of the accident, I no longer have any hopes or dreams for the future like I did before.” Sikder also called on the US government to take action against manufacturers benefitting from the conditions which support the corrupt garment sector in Bangladesh. “Please think about the workers who have lost their limbs, their feet and their hands, and about the families who have lost their sons and daughters, wives and husbands,” she said. “Please think about their pain and how they are forced to live.”
Although Bangladeshi garment workers have taken independent action to change their working conditions, they have often been met with violence while protesting. In June, President Obama revoked trade privileges with Bangladesh, citing the poor working conditions in factories.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 7/12/2013, 11/12/2013, 5/7/2013; Representative Miller’s Press Office 2/11/2014; Testimony of Reba Sikder 2/11/2014