We RISE for Workers in Bangladesh
By Eve Ensler, V-Day Founder, and Monique Wilson, One Billion Rising Director
V-Day expresses its strong support for the workers in Bangladesh killed when a building, housing several garment factories manufacturing clothing for American and European companies, collapsed on April 25th. The collapse of Rana Plaza building in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, has killed over 300 people to date, mostly young women workers - and has injured over 2,000 - with the death toll rising by the hour.
Huge cracks had been found in the building, and workers refused to go into the building to work, but were forced by the garment factory owners who threatened non-payment of one month's wages if the workers didn't comply. According to Khushi Kabir, a women's rights activist and One Billion Rising coordinator for Bangladesh - "I am so sick of the unnecessary murder of the workers, most of whom are women. This is not the first time garment owners have shown such callousness, nor the first time such tragedies have occurred. Despite High Court orders, no actions seem to have been put in place."
Workers in numerous factories in Bangladesh, like many parts of Asia - suffer low wages, long working hours and no benefits. In various cases, they have been subjected to repressive measures and have to work in environments with almost no health and safety standards. Women workers are the most vulnerable of all - as they also suffer other forms of exploitation and abuse within the work place.
This is more than just a building collapsing and the rising death toll. This is a consequence of a long line of exploitative systems in place that put profit and money over the value of human lives. This is the owner of the building who never got any clearance for the structure, and the relevant authorities who never questioned it.
This is the failure of the government with regard to enforcement of the Bangladesh National Building Code, provisions of adequate punishment and fines, and employers' negligence in taking safety measures which has led to continued tragedies such as this.
The RMG (ready made garment) sector in Bangladesh employs approximately over 5 million workers in Bangladesh, providing jobs, and contributing significantly to the GDP of the nation. The sector's contributions must not go in vain. The continuous exploitative system needs to end now, and it is the RMG sector that needs to come forward and act on basic fundamentals that do not violate basic human rights, and more importantly not lead to incidents such as these.
This is the concerted failure of all stakeholders today - the government, politicians, the garment owner.
But the chain doesn't end there. It is important to look at the American and European companies- whose production took place within those factories. Who pay starvation wages of 14 to 24 cents an hour to a Bangladeshi worker, in this case mostly women, who works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Companies who then pay less than ten cents for a garment, manufactured on the back of workers who are rarely provided extra benefits or healthy work environments, who cannot afford to say no because they need the money in order to survive. It is time that these companies look beyond, and ensure realistic payments, and standards - the margins in this case will not be lost significantly, neither will the business model collapse. This is where the idea of responsible business needs to begin. It is time for these global companies to stand up and act, and end the entrenched cycles of economic dependence in countries such as Bangladesh.
V-Day stands up for the workers in Bangladesh, and calls for the government of Bangladesh to ensure institutional systems that allow ensuring basic human rights of the workers. We also call on their government to conduct the monitoring and implementation of health and safety conditions in work places - and for them to be held accountable in their conscious violations of workers' rights to a safe, secure and healthy work environment.
V-Day also calls on the numerous American and European clothing companies who do production there:
For them to also be held equally accountable for the part they play in the continued exploitation of workers in Bangladesh. These companies exist where democratic systems are in place - therefore they must insist and demand the same structures of a working democracy - dignity in labor and full labor rights - the humane and dignified treatment and protection of workers. They need to be willing to ensure their role and contribution in ensuring proper standards for these workplaces.
Economic disempowerment is a form of violence.
Severe negligence in the workplace is a form of violence.
Exploitation of labor is a form of violence.
No labor rights - is a form of violence.
No human rights - is a form of violence.
We RISE for the workers who lost their lives - largely women, 18 or 19 years old - who deserved the most fundamental of rights - to live and work with dignity and safety. We RISE with the survivors and fight for their right to exercise their democratic and human right to work in an environment of respect, equality, safety, dignity and freedom.We RISE against the system that financially empowers the chosen few at the expense of the majority - and the perpetuation of the cycle of economic violence this keeps in place. We RISE against the hunger, poverty, exploitation and oppression that have kept the workers of the world in a perpetual economic prison- that have served and benefited the decision makers - corporations, corrupt governments and the ruling elite - at the biggest human cost - the people.
We RISE for JUSTICE for the workers of Bangladesh.
Eve Ensler, V-Day Founder, and Monique Wilson, One Billion Rising Director
V-Day has created THE RISING FUND, which will provide immediate emergency support for workers and their families. All funds raised will go directly to the medical and financial support of the families of the workers who lost their lives, and to the medical needs of the workers who were injured.