Today marks the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,200 garment workers, primarily women, and injured 2,500 more.
In the wake of this catastrophe, several steps have been taken to address workplace safety at the country’s thousands of garment factories: Some 100 major corporations have signed on to the Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety, a binding agreement that commits brands and the companies they source from to addressing building and fire hazards and ensuring unions are a key part of this process; and the Bangladesh government has moved toward allowing registration of unions at garment factories.
But on the factory floor, garment workers are reporting a torrent of employer resistance when they seek to form a union to ensure they have a collective voice to fight for workplace rights like job safety and health. Workers who spoke recently with Solidarity Center staff in Gazipur, Bangladesh, described the difficulties they face when seeking a union, even though forming a union would allow them to address deadly working conditions, such as those that led to the Rana Plaza disaster, where a multistory building pancaked in on workers.
Workers are the best monitors of conditions in their factories because they are on the shop floor every day, and many of those at Rana Plaza factories have told the Solidarity Center that they were threatened with the loss of their meager wages if they did not go back to their machines. If they had had a union, they could have had the strength to resist being forced into a death trap.
Workers also told Solidarity Center staff that at the center of what they want from their employers boils down to this: “respectful treatment.”
They know that with respect, all the rest—clean drinking water, sufficient wages to support their families, unlocked fire escapes—will follow.