Bangladesh is the world’s 2nd-biggest supplier of clothes, behind China. More than 80% of its output is exported to Europe or the US.
In 2013, Bangladesh’s garment industry made $19 billion from its 5,000 factories that employed 4 million people. 90% of them are women, who make $38 a month: less than 20% of the wage rate in China; and they are worked to the bone.
At night I was so exhausted. My whole body ached. ~ teenage Bangladesh female garment worker Mahinur Akhter, who, bloody and barely conscious, was dragged from the rubble after Rana Plaza collapsed
95% of the clothing factories are owned by local investors. Factory owners used to average 50% returns on their investments, but that slid to 20% as global oversupply reduced garment prices.
Rana Plaza Collapse
In 2013, a building complex that included a shopping center and 5 garment factories collapsed in Savar, an industrial area near the capital city Dhaka. Planning approval had only been given for 5 of the building’s 8 stories.
The building’s owner, Sohel Rana, ignored warnings of imminent collapse by the appearance of cracks throughout the building in the days before. He instead ordered workers to return to work. Rana tried to flee the country but was caught near the border.
The rescue operation was a fiasco. The area was not even cordoned off. Soldiers and firemen stood by to let locals drag out corpses and survivors. At one point, bystanders pelted volunteers with stones for their slow progress, prompting police to spray tear gas. Day by day, the stench of rotting bodies bloomed. 1,130 were killed and 2,500 injured.
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Somewhere around 60% of the buildings are vulnerable. ~ Bangladeshi civil engineer Mehedi Ansary
Rana Plaza was just the largest and most publicized building tragedy in Bangladesh. In the decade before, hundreds of other factories fell or were consumed by fire; always with casualties. Though over 1,000 workers died from such disasters from 1990 to 2012, no factory owner was charged with any crime.
The trend will continue. Like other countries, Bangladesh’s legal system rarely favors anyone confronting the power structure, including the moneyed class.