A week after Bangladesh's worst garment factory fire left at least 112 people dead, Western consumers are being asked to weigh what the true cost of a T-shirt is. Campaigners say that Bangladesh, the world's second-largest producer of clothes, has secured this position only by offering workers the lowest wages in the world and having some of the worst safety regulations in the industry. Before last week's disaster, more than 500 garment workers had died in fires and accidents since 2006, campaigners say.
"We think that the West can do more to help the workers of Bangladesh and improve the working conditions," said Kalpona Akter, a labour rights activist with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Centre. Since last Friday's blaze at the Tazreen Fashion factory, which took 13 hours to control, a picture has emerged of an establishment where safety took a back seat, and where equipment such as fire extinguishers did not work and had apparently been put in place simply to satisfy visiting inspectors. Local media reports said the exit doors were locked.
The factory is located on the outskirts of Bangladesh's crowded and chaotic capital and is owned by the Tuba group of garment companies. Workers said the ground floor was frequently littered with cotton and other industrial supplies, making it difficult to move around the factory floor. Parveen Akter, the husband of a sewing operator, visited the factory a few weeks ago and found the ground floor hopelessly cluttered. Another employee, Amina, 30, who also jumped from the second floor and who suffered serious head injuries, said: "The ground floor was sometimes clear, but at other times full of material."
One worker said an emergency drill had taken place the day before the fire. "It took 10 minutes for me to get out," said Shohana Begum, 22, who the next day had to jump for her life from a window, with other employees. Online records revealed this week that the Tazreen factory had been given a "high risk" safety rating after an inspection in May 2011 and a "medium risk" rating in August 2011. Wal-Mart said it stopped working with the factory last year, apparently over safety concerns.
Yet many Western companies – including the Scottish-based Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Disney, Sears, the clothing line of the singer Sean Combs, Carrefour, Ikea and C&A – had contracts with the factory..
Read more: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/the-price-they-pay-for-our-cheap-tshirts-8372495.html