Bodies continue to pile up at Rana Plaza, once a powerhouse of Bangladesh’s garment industry, where more than 1,000 corpses have been unearthed since a factory collapse two weeks ago (and today, another survivor was discovered). Meanwhile, yet another disaster, a May 8 fire at the Tung Hai Sweater Factory in Dhaka’s Mirpur district, claimed eight additional lives. In total, the death toll since 2005 from fires and other preventable incidents at factories in Bangladesh now exceeds 1,500, according to garment-industry watchdogs—including more than 110 killed by a fire at the Wal-Mart-affiliated Tazreen factory in November.
In a strange twist, the casualties in the latest fire appear not to have been ordinary workers. According to a New York Times summary of Bangladesh news reports, “The victims included the police deputy inspector general, Z. M. Monzur Morshed, as well as the factory’s managing director, Mahbubur Rahman. Mr. Rahman was also a director of the country’s most powerful industry trade group, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.” The fact that prominent industrialists were meeting with a police official in the factory after hours exposes the tight nexus between commerce and the state that has drawn public scrutiny in the wake of Rana. The powerful businessman behind the huge factory complex, Sohel Rana, was notorious for exploiting cozy political connections to bolster his manufacturing empire.
Tragically, it took the scale of the carnage at Rana Plaza to shine light on a barely regulated industry known for treating its Global South workforce—which profits from vast numbers of rural migrant women workers with few other job options—as disposable tools. Lower-grade accidents that attract less media attention have also inflicted day-to-day harm. According to the International Business Times, since the Tazreen fire, “40 more factory incidents have led to the deaths of 10 people, with 650 workers injured.” In a country where low-wage workers often toil to support families on less than $40 per month, work-related injuries can prove financially fatal. Read the rest of this entry →