As the rescue efforts in Savar, on the outstrits of Dhaka, Bangladesh has come to an end the figures on the collapse of the 8 storey building are stark – some 380 killed, 2044 rescued with over 1000 injured amongst them and still over another 1,000 unaccounted for at all. So the death toll will certainly go up as the rubble is removed from the site. Some estimates in the local press in Dhaka suggest it could be upwards of a thousand killed by the end of the week.
As the President of National Garment Workers Federation, Amriul Haque Amin has said concisely ” the death of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, government and factory owners took workers protection seriously “
Multi-national corporations operationally globally with their relentless push on driving prices down undoubtedly played its part in all this but they could clearly take up workers protection by signing up on the Bangladesh Fire & Building Safety Agreement to prevent such future tragedies along with labour rights like a decent minimum wage. Such standards would still secure their supplies without making a huge inraod on their profit margins.
The garment industry appears to be wrapped in a culture of impunity, as its treated as the sacred cow of Bangladesh’s economy. Not surprising as it employees 4 million workers most of whom are women and accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s export earnings. Its industrial body, the Bangladesh Garments Manufactures & Exporters Association (BGMEA) has shown callous indifference of such mass industrial slaughter, following so soon after a fire killed more then 100 workers in another garment town recently. Moreover a number of factory owners have gone into politics and are reputed to be some of the most generous financiers of political parties. You would think with such a high death toll and the criminial negligence that caused it would make it hard for the government to ignore it critically in election year. Both the major parties will be slugging it out soon, so will they respond to public outrage and finally bring negligent factory and building owners to book. Or will it be just another garment factory tragedy and its business as usual.
Of course prevention is better then dealing with the aftermath of such horrific events but don’t think we here in the UK can be complacent about workers protection. In the previous week the House of Lords voted to change the law so that in future, even though an employer may have breached health & safety regulations specificially designed to protect workers, the injured worker can not rely on that breach as evidence of neglience in any claim for compensation. So in future the worker will have to prove what the employer knew or ought to have known about like when we have a faulty machine, leaking roof or an obstructed corridor. Fundamentally the burden of prove on who caused an accident falls on the injured worker and their representatives rather then the employer.
So with Workers Memorial Day and May Day as well just passed since the Dhaka collapse, let us not forget the dead and fight for the living.