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They make garments…

Editorial | Updated :

Close to four years after the Rana Plaza collapse (April 2013)  ~ one of the world's worst environmental disasters ~ the garment industry in Bangladesh, that manufactures the top European and American brands, is in crisis again. International concern over the exploitation of child labour, expectant mothers, and almost inhuman working hours has deepened this week with the summary dismissal of no fewer than 1600 workers, who were demanding that their pay be trebled to make ends meet. With the closure of the production sites ~ to stave off the crisis ~ trans-continental supplies during the holiday season are bound to be dislocated. On closer reflection, this is of lesser moment than the fact that the  garment industry ~ thriving on the Euro and US dollars ~ is confronted with yet another humanitarian crisis… though not mortal as it was in 2013.  An estimated 1,134 people had perished in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex; many more had groaned in pain beneath the rubble. The tragedy had ignited massive protests in glitzy Dhaka and international scrutiny of the industry. As 2017 unfolds,  it is painful to reflect that the demand for a living wage has been greeted with the firing of rubber bullets. Not unsurprisingly, the police have gone on the offensive. This counter-mobilisation by the law-enforcement authorities does not address the fundamental issue, i.e. that many or most of the garment factories, whether in Sabar or Ashulia, are illegal and are flouting almost every rule in the book. Bangladesh contends with the cruel irony that the booming garment industry offers wages that are the lowest in the world, indeed less than one-fifth of the country’s living wage. Distressing too must be reports that the authorities have muffled the protests by invoking a controversial wartime law intended to deal with threats to state security. The Special Powers Act was used  to detain union leaders and workers. This would scarcely have been possible without the Awami government’s concurrence. From almost incredible indifference in April 2013, the crisis in December 2016 has been addressed with an overdose of state action. The garment industry in Bangladesh showcases institutionalised exploitation; it has been crying out for humanitarian intervention in the truest sense of the term.