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09 October 2013

Church campaign promotes justice for Bangladeshi workers

Church campaign promotes justice for Bangladeshi workers

By Annie Carter

Take any item from your wardrobe today and check the label. Chances are you'll discover that your latest bargain from a popular high street store was made in Bangladesh. The country is the world's second largest clothing exporter. It also has the highest wage inequalities of all the main countries which export to the US and the UK.

Six months after the factory collapse at Rana Plaza, where 1,100 workers were killed and around 2,500 injured, most of us have forgotten about the plight of Bangladeshi garment workers, whose lives are dependent on the growing industry. The latest disaster at a fire in Gazipur has highlighted once again the inadequacies of safety protocols, showing disregard for the value of human life. Profits continue to be of more concern than the safety of hard working people.

Instigated by the Church of Bangladesh, a global campaign has been launched, supported by the Anglican Alliance, along with a coalition of denominations and church groups, including the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Societies.

Around 25 church representatives and ministers gathered in London at the launch of the campaign which aims not only to raise awareness, but also to put pressure on governments and manufacturers in the countries where garments are sold to take action towards improving standards. Nick Debois MP, secretary of the all party parliamentary group on Bangladesh, also attended the launch.

The tragedy at Rana Plaza – the deadliest one to hit the headlines – was one of a series of accidents affecting garment workers in Bangladesh. Since 2005 an estimated 1,800 workers have been killed in factory fires and collapses. These have been directly linked to substandard factory buildings, due to flouting of regulations by corrupt officials

Anglican Bishop Paul Sarker, moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, stressed that importers and buyers should not stop their garments business in Bangladesh. Instead, the campaign – launched in September – aims to improve wages and working conditions for those working in the manufacture of clothing. 

Sally Keeble, director of the Anglican Alliance, said: "We're asking retailers who purchase clothes here to be aware of conditions and to sign up to the agreements in the Accord. We want to ensure that workers are paid properly and work in decent conditions. Retailers should check whether their manufacturers comply with standards."

She emphasised how shoppers in the developed world can influence retailers. "It's really important for shoppers to use their consumer power," she said. Shoppers are encouraged to write letters to retailers and to encourage friends and colleagues to take action.

The campaign aims to get more companies to show their commitment to improving conditions for garment workers and ensuring safety in the workplace.

A key speaker at the launch, John Christie, had recently visited Bangladesh and witnessed firsthand the condition of the workers. John was able to interview Bishop Paul Sarker, along with former factory worker, Monika Hambron, via Skype. Speaking from Dakha, 25-year-old Monika shared her harrowing experience of the Rana Plaza collapse. She lay trapped under rubble for over an hour, before rescue workers spotted part of her clothing and managed to free her. 

Since her ordeal, Monika lost her income to help her family and has suffered from flashbacks of that fateful day. Although there has since been an improvement to the minimum wage, Monika explained that this was still far below what they were asking for. Very few of the victims or their families have received any compensation since the disaster. Monika is keen to go back to work in a safe environment and to receive a just wage.

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Proverbs 31:9: "Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

An Action resource pack has been created to highlight the areas of concern and promote justice for workers.