Monday, December 3, 2012


For my international trade union work I have visited Bangladesh, which once included also a visit to various jute factories. These were state-owned enterprises in decline because  demand for jute was becoming lower and lower as a result of the growing use of for example plastic shopping bags.De working conditions were terrible, especially compared to those common in Europe. The local unions did their best but even in these state enterprises they could not change much. Women and children sat working on the oil contaminated floor. There were no decent bathrooms so workers -women and men alike – pooped and peed in the gutters along the outdoor walls of the factories. No pleasant sight.

These days once again there was a huge fire in a textile factory in which 122 people were killed. That were so many deaths that the disaster reached the international press and TV news worldwide. A trade union colleague in Bangladesh has send me some newspaper clippings with photographs. As you can read on the frontpage of the Daily Star since 1990 there have been no less than 33 major fires with a total of 500 deaths. You can read also that the day after the big fire in the Ashulia textile factory there was another fire in another factory, but fortunately without casualties. (See the clipping at the end of the article).

The lack of fire extinguishers, sprinklers and emergency exits on all floors caused so many deaths.  Of course, the management of the company is responsible for safety measures but apparently they are not interested to adhere to safety measures. Their goal is to produce as much as possible at the lowest possible costs. Obviously, the government should monitor compliance with safety measures but that seems not to function either. There is always the risk of corruption and bribery. Trade Unions can do little because who wants to take the risk to lose his or her job? Besides, the only unions admitted by the management are those that work together with the employer. These union leaders get privileges while the profits are not affected.

What should be done?  First of all (Western) companies should be put under pressure to make contracts with factories with decent labor conditions but at the end it is the local government that has to take severe measures to guarantee safety for the workers and to force employers to respect these measures. International assistance and support to the local unions in such countries are also important. Only in this way they can fight for decent work and wages without union members immediately having to fear dismissal or worse like losing their lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment