American Retailers’ Garments “Made With Violence Against Women” in Bangladesh, Miller Says

Left to Right: Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity; Reba Sikder, a 19-year-old garment worker who was trapped in the building collapse at Rana Plaza; and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)
 American Retailers’ Garments “Made With Violence Against Women” in Bangladesh, Miller Says

WASHINGTON—Women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories are caught in a web of exploitive social and economic structures, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said today after meeting with a teenage garment worker who was trapped in the building collapse at Rana Plaza that killed more than 1,100 workers and injured 2,500 more. Following a meeting between Reba Sikder, the 19-year-old garment worker; Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity; the International Labor Rights Forum; and multiple members of Congress, Miller released the following statement: 

“Young women like Reba Sikder make up the vast majority of workers in Bangladesh’s garment factories. They are the driving force of the industry and the majority of its victims.

“In the factories making garments for major international brands and retailers, wages are meager; working conditions atrocious. Women in the Bangladeshi garment sector work long hours in dangerous sweatshops to earn a mere 35 cents per hour. Even with such low wages, some factory owners game the system by laying off women to avoid paying maternity benefits, forcing women to work unpaid overtime, and far exceeding the legally permissible maximum working hours. Women are subject to harassment on the factory floor, and are often beaten or held captive by their employers. They are barely able to eke out an existence.

“And sometimes, the walls fall down around them. They fell one morning last April around Reba, who was trapped for two days under the rubble with 30 other workers. She was one of only six of that group who survived. 

“The sad reality is that Reba is only one of many women who have been trapped by the relentless demands of the garment industry for lower costs and faster turnaround. While the availability of factory jobs has allowed many Bangladeshi women to earn their own wages for the first time, women throughout Bangladesh’s factories are ruthlessly exploited and remain at the bottom of the supply chain in our global textile industry. Participation in the global economy has begun to empower many Bangladeshi women and give them a collective voice. Yet physical and economic violence against women is the glue that holds the current system together. The apparel industry has created millions of jobs for Bangladeshi women. But your job should not cost you your life.

“We must call out the clothing brands that manufacture irresponsibly in Bangladesh. Not only are they complicit in driving the race to the bottom that pits countries against each other at the expense of workers, but they are taking advantage of societal norms that do not hold women in equal regard.

“Retailers and brands have the power to change these horrific circumstances and make sure that dangerous and violent workplace conditions are no longer tolerated. In the wake of the disasters at Rana Plaza, Tazreen, and the many other incidents that preceded them, some companies have recognized that all is not well in Bangladesh, and they have committed to making sure basic safety standards are met by signing on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. In joining the Accord, many of the world’s largest retailers have signaled their agreement that no worker should fear for their life when they go to work each morning. 

“But businesses must do more to protect the most basic labor and human rights of their workers, up and down the supply chain. They must protect the women of Bangladesh. If they don’t, their clothing labels may as well read: ‘made with violence against women.’”  

Read Reba Sikder’s testimony from today’s meeting.