Bangladesh Garment Industry Leader Says Blame For Tragedies Lies With Western Retailers

Posted on the Huffington Post website 5-3-2013

By Dave Jamieson and Emran Hossain

Whenever impoverished garment workers die while making clothes for wealthier consumers in far-off lands, competing clothing brands manage to come together over a high-minded common cause: Better scrutiny of the overseas plants that produce their garments, to avoid putting vulnerable workers in harm’s way.

But in the wake of an epochal garment industry disaster inside his own country, Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the largest garment manufacturing trade group in Bangladesh, declared such talk self-serving and misguided. If the big clothing labels are truly committed to improving safety standards inside factories in Bangladesh, he argued, they should reconsider their own cutthroat buying practices and agree to pay higher prices to underwrite the safety improvements they say they want for workers.

“The retailers only talk about ethical sourcing,” Azim, of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, bemoaned to HuffPost, speaking Bengali. “I think this is the time we start talking about ethical buying.”

The horrific collapse of Rana Plaza in a suburb of Dhaka last week took the lives of more than 440 people. Like the Tazreen fire that killed 112 last year, the vast majority of those who perished were poor line workers earning as little as $37 a month producing clothes largely for Western consumers.

Some of the European and Canadian retailers whose products have been linked to the factories have expressed sadness and amazement, suggesting little knowledge of the working conditions under which their clothes were being produced. The managers of the Bangladeshi factories, meanwhile, have found themselves the subjects of mass protest, bearing the brunt of an international swell of anger and disgust.

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